Scientists will announce their successful results in late August at the American Chemical Society's annual summer meeting, held this year in Philadelphia. Some of the results also appeared in the January 2004 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
"Preliminary data show that our laboratory-synthesized compounds have a therapeutic index the measure of a drug's safety and efficacy that is better, in some cases, many times better, in rodents than the drugs currently considered the gold standard for chemotherapy of both malaria and prostate cancer," said Gary Posner, Scowe Professor of Chemistry in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins. "These results are preliminary, but exciting, and certainly worth pursuing."
Malaria afflicts between 300 million and 500 million people a year, killing between 1.5 million and 3 million of them mostly children. Spread by female mosquitos feeding on human blood, the most commonly fatal strain of the malaria parasite began showing formidable resistance to current treatments decades ago, making the development of new and more effective drugs a worldwide priority.
With support from the National Institutes of Health since 1994, Posner's research team, which also includes Theresa Shapiro, professor of clinical pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, tackled that challenge by designing a series of compounds called trioxanes. These compounds are aimed at mimicking the mechanism of action of artemisinin, the active agent in the Artemisia annua plant, which has been used in China as an herbal remedy for malaria and other fevers for thousands of years.