Johns Hopkins University scientists have developed new chemical compounds that show promise in fighting malaria, a disease that kills 2 million people a year.
Chemists were able to synthesize the new compounds after learning how another, more expensive and difficult-to-produce malaria drug works at the molecular level. The new compounds use the same mechanism to kill the parasite that causes malaria, but they are much less expensive and easier to produce than drugs presently available.
When tested in laboratory cultures of infected blood, the experimental drugs killed Plasmodium falciparum, the species of mosquito-borne parasite that causes most malaria deaths in people. One of the compounds has been tested on malaria-infected mice, curing the animals. The researchers are working now to develop more potent compounds, leading to more animal testing.
Finding new anti-malarial agents is important because Plasmodium parasites are becoming increasingly resistant to chloroquine and other traditional drugs used to treat malaria patients. The anti- malarial drug artemisinin, extracted from the plant Artemisia annua, has been successful in curing malaria patients in China. But plants contain only small amounts of the substance, making the drug expensive and impractical.
The Hopkins researchers have previously developed synthetic versions, or analogs, of artemisinin; the synthetic drugs have been shown to cure malaria in monkeys. The new compounds, however, would be easier and less expensive to produce than those analogs of artemisinin.
A scientific paper about the compounds was published on Sept. 30 in Tetrahedron Letters, an international science journal published in the United Kingdom. The research is being conducted by a team of scientists led by Gary H. Posner, Scowe Professor of Chemistry in The Johns Hopkins School of Arts and Sciences, and Theresa A. Shapiro, a pharmacologist and associate professor in the School of Medicine.