Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites and it is the female Anopheles mosquito that acts as a vector for these malarial parasites in to the human body.
Each year, 200 to 400 million people are infected in the underdeveloped and developing regions of the planet, causing the death of between 2 to 3 million of their inhabitans, most of which are children below 5 years of age. Several therapeutic agents that efficiently fight the disease already exist, but nevertheless; there is still a need to develop new antimalarial drugs to increase the therapeutic arsenal against the disease and to help prevent the different strains of already resistant Plasmodium parasites from acquiring further resistance to antimalarial drugs.
The Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid have patented a new active compound for the treatment of malaria. The researchers have also identified the gene where this compound inhibits the growth of the parasite, since it has a crucial role in its cycle inside the erythrocytes. The new compound is a non digestive protease inhibitor that does not allow the growth or development of the Plasmodium parasite inside the erythrocytes. This active compound, even considering its peptide origin, is expected to improve the activity and bioavailability of the drugs.
The identification of specific targets essential for the development of the parasite is an effective tool to facilitate the development of new drugs that cure infections by parasites resistant to current antimalarial drugs. The target identified, is a single gene with a very specific role for the parasite, and that is conserved and shared among all the species of plasmodium, which potentially implies a low probability for acquiring resistance. Also, the human host has several homologous genes to this target gene, but with different properties to the parasitic one, which is the possible reason for nearly non existent toxic effects of the new active compound in the mice used to test the drug, lending an additional advantage to this patented compound.