New malaria drug fights resistance

Researchers claim they have developed a new anti-malaria drug that can kill the parasite that causes the disease, according to an article published May 5 in the Journal Nature.

Head researcher Jane Kelly, along with colleagues from the Veteran Affairs Medical Center and Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, said the drug also can prevent the parasite that causes the disease from becoming resistant to the drug.

One of the main goals of the research, Kelly said, was to design a drug that could stop the parasite.

“When the parasite invades the human body, it takes up the red blood cells," Kelly told Reuters. “They take the hemoglobin from our red blood cells and they chew it up.”

The iron-containing heme in these cells is toxic to the parasites, but they have the ability to convert it to a nontoxic form.

Chloroquine and other drugs have proven to stop the process, Kelly said,  but the parasite can develop the ability to pump these drugs out of its stomach.

The researchers in the “Nature” article said that they have engineered a new scaffold with both features incorporated into one molecule. The new drug works in the same way as the older drugs by keeping heme toxic to the parasite, plus it stops them from pumping it out of their bodies, Kelly said.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that kills 880,000 people a year, most of them in Africa and most under the age of five. There is no vaccine against the parasite that causes the illness and it quickly evolves resistance to drugs.