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Research in monkeys indicates that a potential new class of anti-malarial drugs may provide much-needed ammunition against the rapidly evolving malarial parasite — which kills more than 1 million people a year.

The malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum — which is developing increasing resistance to current drugs — goes through a complex development process that includes a stage where it inhabits human red blood cells. During this period, the pathogen synthesises a large amount of membrane.

A French, Dutch and Colombian team has been investigating substances that inhibit this membrane production, and identified a compound called G25 as the leading candidate.

They report in this week’s issue of Science that the compound cured monkeys infected with human malaria at doses far below those used for current anti-malarial drugs, which target other points in the malaria parasite’s lifecycle.

The compound was also effective in mice infected with drug-resistant parasites, and satisfies many of the requirements in laboratory experiments and in living animals for the commercial development of a new class of anti-malarials, according to the authors.

G25 is also both easy to make and relatively cheap — essential qualities for use in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 per cent of all malaria cases arise.

Reference: Science 295, 1311 (2002)

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