Clinical trials to begin for new malaria vaccine

An international team of scientists plans to begin clinical trials for a new malaria vaccine later this year.

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute, the Swiss Tropical Institute, the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation and the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases revealed their findings in the September 3 issue of the journal Science, according to

Elizabeth Winzeler, a Scripps Research associate professor and member of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, told that she was excited by the new compound.

"It has a lot of encouraging features as a drug candidate, including an attractive safety profile and potential treatment in a single oral dose," Winzeler told

The path to the new drug began seven years ago, when Winzeler’s plan to develop target-based drug discovery methods received funding from the Keck Foundation. Target-based drugs are designed using known molecular interactions. This method yielded few results, so Winzeler’s team tried a different approach - cell-based screening.

Winzeler's team developed a high-throughput screen to look for compounds that were active against the parasite that causes malaria, reports. To do this, they used a library of over 12,000 purified natural products that was supplied by Novartis.

After initially finding 275 potential candidates, Winzeler was able to narrow the field to just 17 that could be effective and safe for humans. After looking at the toxicity and pharmacokinetic profiles of those, one compound stood out as promising. It belonged to a chemical class of molecules known as spiroindolones. Spiroindolones had never before been associated with malaria.

A team from Novartis based in Singapore looked at 200 derivatives of the spiroindolone molecule and, after several hundred rounds of efficacy testing, found one, known as NITD609, that would make a potential drug candidate.

The drug has been found effective in fighting a variety of drug-resistant strains of the two parasites that cause malaria, Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax, according to

The World Health Organization estimates that every year there are 243 million cases of malaria in Africa alone, causing over 800,000 deaths.