How we discovered a new compound which could not only treat malaria, but also potentially protect people from the disease and prevent its spread all in a single dose.
In June 2015, scientists at the University of Dundee discovered a new compound which could not only treat malaria, but also potentially protect people from the disease and prevent its spread all in a single dose.
Malaria itself is a debilitating, often fatal parasitic disease, which despite a 60% decrease in mortality rates between 2000 and 2015, still kills around 400,000 people each year.
The World Health Organisation estimated 214 million cases of malaria in 2015, most of which were children under five and pregnant women living in sub-Saharan Africa.
The disease still threatens almost half of the world’s population – the half that can least afford it. For each of them there are still only relatively poor therapies available and in many instances those drugs are also subject to increasing resistance.
There is an urgent need for new, well-tolerated, effective and affordable drugs, mainly because the parasite that causes malaria is becoming more resistant to current ones.
Emerging strains are present at both the Myanmar-Indian border and more recently in South America, sadly proving that many of the strains from the some 100 species of parasite that carry malaria are becoming resistant to the best drugs available.
The Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) in the University’s School of Life Sciences was opened in 2006 to help address these issues and bridge the `valley of death’ which often prevents academic research from being translated into drugs by the pharmaceutical industry.
The DDU team began working with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) in 2009 to identify potential new treatments for malaria and predicts that the newest compound found would likely cost only $1 after development.
The compound, made from one of almost 4,700 other compounds tested for antimalarial effectiveness, works in an entirely different way to other known antimalarial agents.
Detailed investigation has revealed that it targets part of the machinery that makes proteins within the parasite that causes malaria.
The resulting development, found after successful trails undertaken in MMV collaborating labs from Melbourne to Dundee, was greeted worldwide as offering hope that a new treatment could be in sight for those millions threatened by the disease.
The potential for this treatment is immense. A drug that could cure malaria and stop the spread of the disease would transform the lives of millions of people around the world.
The University, through the efforts of the DDU, continues to develop new potential treatments for many infectious diseases across the world including Tuberculosis, ebola and other illnesses like cystic fibrosis.
Eddie Small is a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Dundee. He was awarded the Student-led ‘Most Inspirational Teacher at the University’ prize in May 2016. His biography of Mary Lily Walker, Forgotten Visionary of Dundee, was launched in 2013, and he was asked to write a play, Dundee’s Four Marys, which has been performed 7 times. He wrote and performed in ‘Pantomime of Death’ at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe. A committed local historian, he regularly give walking tours of his city.