Malaria, Africa's biggest killer

It's Africa's biggest killer, but it's not HIV. It causes economic losses of US$12 billion per year, but it's not a war. And it has slowed African economic growth by around 1.3 per cent per annum, but it’s not a famine.

The guilty party is malaria and its effect is nothing short of devastating.

“Malaria kills more people in the world than any other communicable disease except tuberculosis, yet in terms of new drug development the disease is widely seen as a neglected one,” commented Mr. Stuart McGuire, Senior Business Development Executive at UK-based Clinical Research Organisation, Chiltern International. Mr McGuire has direct research experience in malaria, having worked in Tanzaniaon the anti-malarial compound Artemisia.

“There are a number of strategies that can be employed against malaria,” he added. “These include updating existing treatment policies in African countries, testing new drug combinations currently in the pipeline, and re-evaluating drug combinations that are currently available to extending their therapeutic life.”

“One of the biggest problems in tackling malaria is that the countries most affected are amongst the poorest in the world,” explained Chiltern’s Marketing Executive Dr Faiz Kermani, who has published several articles on the access to essential medicines issue.

“Many have inadequate healthcare systems and insufficient finances to adequately tackle the disease. As the end users have low purchasing power and there are still issues to resolve over intellectual property, companies have been discouraged from investment in the field of tropical medicine.”

“One of the ways that progress could be made is through the Public Private Partnerships, and a number of these have been set up worldwide,” he continued.

“Two such examples are the Medicines for Malaria Venture and Malaria Vaccine Initiative. Their staff leverage the expertise and knowledge of relevant public and private players to accelerate and advance the effort to develop new tools with which to fight malaria. These partnerships are a welcome step towards producing the next generation of anti-malarial drugs, and will provide us with interesting opportunities for collaboration on clinical trials.”

This thirst for challenge in research remains one of Chiltern’s core drivers and any new research in malaria would be seen as returning to perhaps Chiltern’s earliest and most important research roots.

The company talks with some authority on the subject. For example, one of its clinical project managers, Beatriz Mosqueira, is currently supplementing her work at Chiltern’s Spanish office with work as a malaria researcher at the University of Valencia and at the Institut pour le Recherche et le Developement (IRD), a WHO reference centre. Her project on new strategies for malaria control has involved work at the IRD centre in Franceand at various field stations in West Africa. Her studies focus on new strategies for malaria control involving laboratory research at the IRD centre in France and field work in West Africa. Her research has already obtained some interesting results that will be presented at the IX European Multicolloquium of Parasitology.

There is also a very significant historical link between the company and malaria. Chiltern was founded in 1982 by Dr.J.C.Garnham and Mr.S.P.Garnham, the son and grandson of Professor P.C.C.Garnham, CMG, MD, DSc, FRCP, Hon.FRCP(E), FRS.

It was Professor Garnham himself who discovered the last great secret of the life cycle of the malaria parasite in man - the exo-erythrocytic cycle of Plasmodium vivax - which showed that the organism was capable of surviving in the human liver for a long time. This discovery made a rational approach to the complete treatment of the disease and the possible prevention of the clinical illness.

In 1947 he returned to Londonto the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene where he subsequently became Head of the Department of Parasitology and Professor of Medical Protozoology at the Universityof London. He continued his research work and interests and achieved numerous successes. In 1970, his work earned him the unusual and highly regarded appointment as a Pontifical Academician, Academyof Science, to the Vatican.

Professor Garnham’s son, Dr.J.C.Garnham was born in Kenyaand followed his father into the world of medicine, also as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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