A New Drug Could Be a One-Shot Wonder for Treating Malaria

Researchers are testing a compound that can treat and prevent malaria with just one dose.

A mother sits with her sick child in a hospital bed covered by a mosquito net in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. (Photo: SIA KAMBOU/Getty Images)

Jul 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

The recent discovery of a drug compound that can both treat and prevent malaria in a single dose could be a major medical breakthrough for the developing world, according to a new study published in the science journal Nature.

Known as DDD107498, the compound is an inexpensive, single-dose solution that can attack the parasite throughout its life cycle. Malaria is one of the leading causes of death in the developing world, claiming 584,000 lives in 2013, according to the World Health Organization.

“The compound interferes with some of the machinery involved in protein synthesis in the parasite at different stages of its life cycle,” Kevin Read, a researcher at the University of Dundee’s Drug Discovery Unit, the U.K.-based lab where the drug has been in development, told SciDev.Net. The new compound remains active in the body and can keep healthy people from getting malaria, he explained. Clinical trials are set to take place within the year, and the new drug is scheduled to be available in five years for as little as $1 per dose.

So, Why Should You Care? Mortality rates are especially high among children in Africa, where a child dies every minute from the disease. While deaths have dropped by nearly 50 percent since 2000 thanks to increased control measures such as mosquito nets and spraying, the discovery of a drug such as this could dramatically contain the disease.

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“The chemical compound of this potential drug is different from any other antimalarial compound in that it interacts at many different stages of the parasite life cycle,” Colin Sutherland, who heads the department of immunology and infection at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told SciDev.Net. “It is absolutely crucial that new compounds such as this one are coming through the pipeline.”

Another reason new medicines are critical: Drug resistance is on the rise.

Resistance to the current gold-standard antimalarial drug is now considered a real threat, Read told the BBC. The compound we have discovered works in a different way to all other antimalarial medicines on the market or in clinical development, which means that it has great potential to work against current drug-resistant parasites.

That will be vital, as 3.2 billion people in poverty-stricken parts of the world are still at risk of contracting malaria, according to WHO.

“There is a lot of work to be done before this can be formulated into a usable drug, and it still may fail at some stage, Sutherland said. But this initial preclinical work is very encouraging.”