University of Dundee

CLS Partnership Reaches Important Milestone in Discovery of New Drugs for Malaria

14 Nov 2011

Scientists at the College of Life Sciences are making rapid progress towards a potential new treatment for malaria. Dundee’s Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) initiated a project in partnership with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) around 18 months ago and has already identified a compound that is curative in a mouse model of malaria at very low doses, when given orally. 

Professor Ian Gilbert one of the leaders of the research effort said, “This is tremendously exciting and amazing progress. We have discovered an entirely new class of compound that holds a great deal of antimalarial promise.”

The project started after the biology team at the DDU screened one of their collections of compounds against the malaria parasite. The results of this screen gave rise to a number of suitable chemical start points. Over the course of 18 months, two of these compound series have been modified and refined through cycles of compound design, chemical synthesis and biological testing to the point where they show excellent activity in a mouse model of malaria. 

“MMV is pleased to be working with the dedicated team at the University of Dundee,” said Tim Wells, Chief Scientific Officer at MMV. “Malaria control and elimination continues to face numerous challenges, not least of which is the threat of emerging resistance to the current effective treatment – artemisinin. In preparation for this eventuality MMV and partners are researching over 50 projects in the largest-ever pipeline of antimalarial medicines. DDU scientists have given us more compounds to work on that we hope to take through the research process. If successful, this class of compounds could well become a new source of much-needed alternatives to artemisinin, one day.”

The research has now been focused on one of the compound series, which fulfils all of MMV’s criteria for an “early lead”, and has now entered the phase of drug discovery called “lead optimisation”. In this phase, the DDU team works to further improve the properties of the compounds to the point where they can select a candidate drug. Following further studies the candidate would then be ready to enter clinical trials. Based on current progress, the scientists hope to have selected a candidate within one year.

Dr Kevin Read, another leader of the DDU team said, “Malaria is a debilitating, often fatal parasitic disease that kills around one million people each year, mostly children under the age of 5, living in sub-Saharan Africa. Our compounds give hope that safe, affordable, new medicines to fight malaria will be ready to replace current drug treatments that are becoming ineffective due to the spread of drug resistance.”

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