Scientists have discovered a new anti-malarial compound that could treat patients with a single R12 ($1) dose, including those with strains of the mosquito-borne disease that are resistant to current drugs.
Although it is still years from reaching the market, results from tests conducted on human blood in the laboratory and in live mice suggest it is highly potent, researchers reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday 17 June 2015.
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In a vote of confidence for the project, German drugmaker Merck KgAA has secured the right to develop and commercialise the compound, assuming it succeeds in further tests.
The plan is to advance the experimental medicine into clinical trials within the next year to assess its safety and see just how well it can fight malaria in the human body. Many drugs fall down at this stage in development.
Finding new medicines for malaria is particularly important because of rising resistance to even the best existing treatments. Researchers recently reported that malaria with total resistance to the drug artemisinin had taken hold in Myanmar and spread close to the Indian border.
Encouragingly, the new compound works in a different way from other drugs by targeting part of the machinery that makes proteins within the parasite, which means it should be effective against current drug-resistant disease.
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Known as DDD107498, it was developed by the University of Dundee's Drug Discovery Unit and the non-profit Medicines for Malaria Venture.
The scientists behind the project estimate it should cost about R12 per treatment, putting it within reach of the most affected patients, who live in poor countries.
While there have been significant reductions in the numbers of people falling ill and dying from malaria, it still kills around 600 000 a year - most of them children in the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Drug companies making existing malaria drugs include Novartis and Sanofi, both of which have special programmes in place to make their products more affordable.
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Image: Malaria drugs by Shutterstock