EU-funded research leads to new effective malaria drug

December 16, 2002

Brussels, 13 December 2002

In an article published today in the scientific magazine "The Lancet", an international consortium funded by a €1.8 million European Commission research grant reports on the initially positive efficacy trials of a new malaria drug.

If the initial positive results are confirmed, the new drug could be available within the next 3 years. This raises new hope for the fight against poverty-linked diseases, in particular in the face of the resurgence of drug-resistant forms of malaria in areas where it was thought to have been eradicated.

"European research is at the forefront in the fight against poverty-related diseases, said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "We plan to invest €400 million in research against malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS over the next four years. Half of this will serve to fund clinical research in co-operation with developing countries and industry through a shared platform with European countries that will pool a total budget of €600 million.

Scientists already work together internationally. Now we also need governments and other donors to structure their research and development investments.

A forgotten disease but still very dangerous

Malaria is endemic in tropical and subtropical regions, with sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South America being particularly affected. Every year 1.5 to 3 million people die from malaria and most of them are children under 6 years old. Recently, the disease returned to areas where it was eradicated decades ago. Moreover, cases of malaria are being reported in areas that were previously considered malaria-free, such as central Asia and Eastern Europe. Consequently, more people die from malaria today than 30 years ago. The most important reason for this alarming development is the spread of malaria parasites that are resistant to current drugs. Therefore, there is an urgent need for development of new medications against malaria.

New antibiotic kills malaria parasites

This is the first time that the active compound fosmidomycin has been used for the treatment of malaria in human beings. The therapeutic principle was developed by a German biotechnology company in co-operation with the University of Giessen, and it was further developed to clinical application by an European Commission-supported consortium comprising as partners Université Louis Pasteur (France), Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (Gabon), Organisation de Lutte Contre les Endémies en Afrique Centrale (Cameroon), Biomedical Primate Research Centre (Netherlands), Universidad del Valle (Colombia), and Universidade de São Paulo ((Brazil). It is a good example of fast-track exploitation of genomic information for clinical applications. The novel compound proves to be a highly effective drug against malaria.

In a clinical study on patients conducted at the Albert Schweitzer hospital in Lambaréné (Gabon), a team of scientists under the direction of Prof. Peter Kremsner of the University of Tübingen (Germany) demonstrated that the antibiotic fosmidomycin quickly kills the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum .

Fosmidomycin is an important innovation in the fight against severe malaria cases as it is one of few substances to really offer a new path of action. In the region of Lambaréné, practically all malaria parasites are already resistant to chloroquine, and at least 30 per cent against sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine. Yet, fosmidomycin is also effective against these multi-resistant strains.

How it works

Fosmidomycin inhibits the development of an enzyme crucial for the malarial parasite, the 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate (DOXP) reductoisomerase. This enzyme is involved in the biosynthesis of certain biomolecules, the isoprenoids. In humans, these substances are produced via a biochemical pathway that differs to that in malarial parasites, so fosmidomycin is not toxic for humans.

Future developments

It will take approximately another three years until the new drug will be made commercially available. In the meantime, a combination of fosmidomycin with another anti-malarial compound will be tested in an attempt to shorten the duration of therapy, and prevent the emergence of resistances. First clinical studies on a combination therapy are already being performed. As the new drug is well tolerated, it will be especially valuable for the treatment of children with malaria.

For further information please visit:

The Lancet: http://www.thelancet.com/journal

The EDCPT: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/edctp.html

Commission research efforts to combat poverty-linked diseases: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/news-centre/en/med/02-10-med01.html

[Contacts placed by Public Info Net from a Cordis article:]

Hassan Jomaa
Jomaa Pharmaka
Tel: +49 163 353 9292
E-mail: hassan.jomaa@jomaa.de

Peter Kremsner
Institute of Tropical Medicine
University of Tübingen
Tel: +49 7071 298 7179
E-mail: peter.kremsner@uni-tuebingen.de

Andreas Holtel
European Commission
Tel: +32 2 295 3716
E-mail: andreas.holtel@cec.eu.int

DN: IP/02/1878 Date: 13/12/2002

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