New drug helps fight drug-resistant strains of malaria

By REBECCA RANDALL

Last spring Lake Oswego resident Jane Kelly was the lead author of a report on a potential breakthrough in treating malaria, an illness caused by parasites that have repeatedly grown resistant to drugs used against them. The report in Nature, an international weekly science journal, introduced the drug T3.5.

The new drug is not only potent on its own, but it is synergistic when used with other common treatment drugs, such as chloroquine. This means that it can actually help chloroquine fight against drug resistant parasites. It’s a “double whammy.”

“That’s the real significance in our discovery,” said Kelly, who works in the malaria discovery lab at the Portland VA Medical Center. “(We) are not just developing a drug; (we) are developing a drug that is synergistic.”

Due to drug resistant strains of the disease, in recent years the most effective drug to fight malaria has been artemisinin used in combination with other drugs. Unfortunately, there have been signs that parasites are also developing resistance to it. Though T3.5, as Kelly has dubbed it, is not synergistic with artemisinin, it could still be used in combination with it.

The World Health Organization currently mandates the use of two drugs by malaria patients simply because drugs have grown less effective as the parasites grow more resistant. T3.5 could potentially reverse that trend, making other drugs more reliable once again.

Kelly has been testing the compound for almost three years. Now, scientists need to figure out how to make T3.5 more potent so that it can be taken at a low dose and will be cheap enough for those who will use it.

Also, “we’re trying to find out how big the scale of synergism is with other drugs,” said Kelly. “We have not seen a red flag for this compound, yet,” said Kelly.

After the highly publicized Nature report, the project received NIH Challenge Grant in Health and Science Research through the 2009 federal stimulus package.

Despite that, human trials are likely five to 10 years out, said Kelly.

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