The Holy Grail of malaria cures?

Cape Town - Researchers at UCT are optimistic they have found a drug that can cure all strains of malaria with a single oral dose.

Some scientists have called the breakthrough drug discovery a gift to Africa, where malaria kills a million people every year.

Minister Naledi Pandor congratulates Professor Kelly Chibale on the medical breakthrough. Picture: Tracey Adams. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor announced the discovery of a compound, which will be the first clinical candidate researched in Africa, on Tuesday.

The synthetic molecule from the aminopyridine class, which has been described as novel and potent, not only has the potential to become a single-dose cure for malaria, but researchers are convinced that it could block transmission of the malaria parasite from person to person.

Professor Kelly Chibale, lead researcher of the collaborative research project, said while the molecule had not been tested on humans yet, animal studies had shown “potent activity against multiple points in the malaria parasite’s lifecycle”.

Conducted by UCT’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) and Switzerland-based Medicines for Malaria Venture, it is the first compound researched in Africa to enter pre-clinical development.

Chibale said while the malaria parasite was sometimes resistant to conventional multidrug malaria treatment, initial results of the 18-month research showed the molecule had killed the resistant parasites instantly. Animal tests also showed that it was not only safe and effective, but there were no adverse reported side effects.

While it would take another year before human clinical trials, and possibly another seven years before a malaria drug was developed, Chibale described the latest findings as “exciting”, as the single dose would encourage drug compliance. “Our research showed that all the animals were cured with no toxicity or side effects. The molecule has been able to kill parasites that are resistant to existing drugs.”

Pandor described the discovery as a “significant victory” in the battle to alleviate the burden of diseases in Africa. “I am excited by the role that our excellent scientists have played in finding a potential single-dose cure for malaria,” Pandor said. “This is evidence both of top science undertaken in South Africa and also the power of continental and international scientific collaboration in addressing the societal challenges of our time.”

Pandor said while SA had built considerable strength in clinical research and had the necessary skills to do groundbreaking research, collaborative partnerships between African researchers were crucial in the quest for African solutions for Africa.

Professor Jim Wells, of Medicines for Malaria Venture, said while SA was not hugely affected by malaria, the research should be seen as a “gift of SA to the rest of Africa”. - Cape Argus