Osteoporosis drug may help fight malaria

According to a study by researchers at the University of Illinois, a chemically modified drug used to fight osteoporosis may be helpful in the battle against malaria.

The researchers screened a library of approximately 1,000 compounds that were used in prior efforts to target a biochemical pathway called isoprenoid biosynthesis. The BPH-703 drug crosses readily into the red blood cells of malaria-infected mice, killing the malaria parasite even at low concentrations, Science Daily reports.

The drug inhibits an enzyme in the malaria parasite that creates a defense for itself. The drug was found to have little effect on the same chemical pathway in mouse or human cells. While the osteoporosis drugs risedronate and zoledronate can block isoprenoid biosynthesis on their own, a chemical modification was required to get them across the membrane of red blood cells to attack the parasite.

"We found that compounds that were really active had a very long hydrocarbon chain," Eric Oldfield, the leader of the study, said, according to Science Daily. "These compounds can cross the cell membrane and work at very low concentrations."

The World Health Organization estimates that malaria killed between 708,000 to 1,003,000 people in 2008. While some drugs tend to work to fight the disease, particularly when used in combination, strains of malaria that are drug-resistant continue to emerge.

"We are the first to show that the enzyme (geranylgeranyl diphosphate synthase) is a valid target for malaria," Yonghui Zhang, the study's co-author, said, according to Science Daily. "Our work gives a new direction to find new anti-malarial drugs."