Author: Kasturi Haldar

Malaria: Targets and Drugs for All Stages

More drugs for malaria: time to expand the antimalarial portfolio

Malaria is an ancient enemy. Its treatments predate modern drug discovery, most notably the use of the Qinghao plant in ancient China (2nd century BC to 340 CE) and Peruvian bark in the early 17th century, the medicines from which are now known to be artemisinin and quinine respectively. Calls for the eradication of malaria have brought renewed focus on tools to control malaria.  Yet, although disease burdens have been lowered in the last five years, malaria remains endemic in over 100 countries and, with an estimated seven hundred thousand deaths in 2010, is still a leading cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide.

Drug research in malaria often focuses on blood stage parasites because they are responsible for the symptoms of the disease and are easier to manipulate in the laboratory.   The assembled PLOS Collection describes multiple parasite and host processes engaged in infection in blood, the blocking of which could stop human illness. However, control and eradication of malaria will also require the development of drugs against stages responsible for mosquito transmission and those that remain latent in the liver, also summarized in the collection. Although these selected papers represent significant research at the highest levels, they are only a fraction of the malaria drug discovery literature.

Despite research, a significant historical hurdle was the market failure of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in the discovery and development of new antimalarials.  Thus new partnerships have arisen that bring together academic and pharmaceutical work.  For example, the not-for-profit product development partnership Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) was established in 1999 to discover, develop and deliver new antimalarials in collaboration with both the public and private sector.  They are joined by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation , multiple agencies including the National Institutes of Health , the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and others. Never before have philanthropic, public and large Pharma resources been better integrated for antimalarials, progressing research in early stages to testing drugs in humans, subsequent registration and delivery to patients.
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