According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019, there were approximately 229 million cases of malaria around the world, of which 409,000 were fatal. Now, researchers at the Francis Crick Institute and the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis have designed a compound that blocks a crucial step in the malaria parasite life cycle.
Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite that invades and replicates inside of red blood cells. Once it has replicated many times, it bursts out into the bloodstream to repeat the process. It is this cycle of invading and bursting out of red blood cells that causes symptoms and sometimes fatal effects of the disease.
Whereas existing drugs for malaria work by killing the parasite while inside red blood cells, this new drug works by blocking the parasite from being able to burst out of them, thus halting the progression of the disease. In particular, the drug works by blocking an enzyme known as SUB1, which is crucial for malaria parasites to burst out of red blood cells. So far, the researchers have found that the compound is effective in human cell tests.
As current strains of malaria have started to develop resistance to existing antimalarial drugs, the researchers hope that this new drug will one day be able to work in lieu of them. Until then, however, they acknowledge that further research is needed- in particular, to make the new compound smaller and more potent. Once this has happened, further experiments on animals and then humans will be needed to show that it is both safe and effective.
"Many existing antimalarialplant-derivedant derived and while they're incredibly effective, we don't know the precise mechanisms behind how they work.” says Chrislaine Withers-Martinez, one of the authors of the study.
“Our decades of research have helped us identify and understand pathways crucial to the malaria life cycle allowing us to rationally design new drug compounds based on the structure and mechanism of critical enzymes like SUB1. This approach, which has already been highly successful at finding new treatments for diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C, could be key to sustained and effective malaria control for many years to come."