Malaria is a common mosquito-borne disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite infecting human red blood cells, which can potentially be fatal once the symptoms take hold. When people are not treated, symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, sweats, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and anemia. Thankfully, there are anti-malarial drugs capable of preventing the contraction of malaria and outright killing the parasite, such as quinine, chloroquine, artesunate, and artemisinin. But these drugs usually only target one aspect of the parasite. Such constant repeated selection of a particular aspect of the parasite may eventually give rise to resistant parasites not affected by the drug because the nonresistant ones have already died.
Image Source: Henrik Sorensen
Synthesized by scientists and published in Nature in June 2015, the artificial drug DDD107498 tested in mice models is without an equal competitor amongst the current malarial drugs. This is because it targets and kills the parasite across multiple life-cycle stages of development while maintaining an acceptable safety level. Even more profound is that this drug is effective with only a single dose treatment, demonstrating the ability to block transmission of malaria from one individual to another and to protect against malarial infection. This new drug targets the translation elongation factor 2 (eEF2) that the parasite needs to synthesize the proteins it needs to sustain life. By stopping protein production, or translation, the cells are unable to maintain its normal function, and the parasite dies due to its inability to maintain itself.
This drug has great potential to be used in medical/clinical outreach to places where malaria is rampant, like Africa, due to its ability to provide protection, prevent transmission, and ultimately treat malaria. What is more exciting is that if this drug is approved, the drug would cost about $1 per treatment, opening the potential to mass produce and be accessible to just about anyone around the world. In an ongoing battle against malaria as it develops resistance to existing drugs, this particular drug is almost an anti-malarial miracle!