Malaria – drug discovery offering new hope

Malaria, a mosquito-borne infectious disease, currently affects over 200 million people, and kills nearly half a million people – mostly children – every year.

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which infects humans through the bite of a mosquito. It then grows in red blood cells where it causes the symptoms of malaria. The parasites infecting the blood can also be taken up in the blood meal of a biting mosquito and infect the mosquito so that when the mosquito then bites another person the parasite can be transmitted.

Scientists led by Professor Andrew Tobin, Director of the Advanced Research Centre (ARC), have discovered a drug that can kill the parasite at all stages of its life cycle in humans and in so doing provide a treatment that can cure the person of malaria and also stop transmission through the mosquito.

The new drug works by stopping the activity of an essential protein, which controls the production/activity of other proteins that are involved in keeping the parasite alive. By blocking this protein’s activity, the drugs can effectively kill the malaria parasite, which not only prevents it spreading, but also holds the possibility of treating the disease in humans too.

Professor Tobin said: “We are tremendously excited about these new findings, and hope they pave the way for the first step in the eradication of malaria. Our work has shown that by killing the parasites at the various stages of parasite development, we have not only discovered a potential cure for malaria but also a way of stopping the spread of malaria from person to mosquito which can then infect other people.”

Transforming pre-clinical drug discovery is a key focus of researchers in the ARC, bringing together expertise from molecular pharmacology and chemistry to speed up the drug discovery process and increase the likelihood of a drug being effective.