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[CAPE TOWN] Researchers say they have identified a possible single-dose malaria cure molecule, with the potential to cure millions of people and, it is hoped, to prevent person-to-person transmission.

The molecule, MMV390048, was discovered during collaborative research by the Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, and Geneva-based Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV).

Tests indicate that the molecule is highly potent: after being administered a single dose, mice infected with malaria parasites were completely cured, and the molecule is also active against wide-ranging drug-resistant malaria strains.

MMV390048 is due to enter the clinical trials stage late in 2013. Kelly Chibale, H3-D's director, said he was very excited that MMV390048 has been selected for further development.

"Our team is hopeful that the compound will emerge from rigorous testing as an extremely effective medicine for malaria," he said.

Tim Wells, MMV's chief scientific officer, said: "This is a great achievement and an excellent example of the quality of research that can be fostered in Africa. We [...] are proud to be collaborating with H3-D. Not only is it conducting excellent science today, but it is also providing world class training for the next generation of African scientists."

Tiaan de Jager, director of the Centre for Sustainable Malaria Control at the University of Pretoria, said this was exciting news for malaria research, both in South Africa and globally.

"It is, however, very early days," he added. "It might be a long time before we see human data and understand the true benefits of the new drug". He also reiterated that "it will require more than one strategy to achieve [malaria] eradication."  

MMV390048 is from the aminopyridine series of compounds, originally identified by scientists at Griffith University, Australia, as part of MMV's extensive malaria screening of about 6 million compounds. The H3-D/MMV project, which selected the most promising compounds for optimisation and retesting, began operations in April 2009.

Additional support for the H3-D project came from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Switzerland, the Centre for Drug Candidate Optimization at Monash University, Australia, and Syngene, a research organisation in India.

According to the WHO, about 3.3 billion people — around half the world's population — are at risk of contracting malaria. More than 90 per cent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa, and the disease is responsible for 24 per cent of child death on the continent.