Scientists have developed a drug which effectively treats malaria and can help fight strains of the deadly infection that are resistant to existent treatments. Researchers from Tulane University in the US conducted a successful clinical trial of the drug, called AQ-13, on human patients. The results, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, are significant as public health experts have long warned that the parasite responsible for most malaria cases, Plasmodium falciparum, is developing drug resistance.
New medications are needed to build up secondary defences against drug-resistant strains of the parasite. The drug was able to clear the parasite responsible for the disease within a week, matching the effectiveness of the most widely used treatment regimen. “The clinical trial results are extraordinarily encouraging,” said Donald Krogstad, professor at Tulane University. “Compared to the current first-line recommendation for treatment of malaria, the new drug comes out very well,” said Krogstad.
Mosquitoes infected by a parasite spread malaria, causing more than 200 million illnesses across the globe and more than 400,000 deaths annually. For decades, chloroquine was used to treat malaria until Plasmodium falciparum developed resistance. Now, a drug combination – artemether and lumefantrine – is the primary treatment for malaria although resistance is also developing to the drug combination in some countries.
Researchers recruited 66 adult men in Mali with uncomplicated malaria, which is defined as malaria that is not life threatening. Half were treated with AQ-13 and the other half received artemether and lumefantrine. Both drug groups had similar cure rates. Researchers hope to expand testing of the drug to more participants, including women and children, before it can be widely recommended as a new treatment.
The same biotechnology that helped the team develop the new drug has also identified similar drugs that also hold promise against drug-resistant parasites, Krogstad said. “The potential long-term implications are bigger than one drug,” he said.