Development of new therapies for malaria
Despite malaria's designation by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of six consensus global health priorities, malaria still remains a major health problem, with 200 million new infections/year, nearly 500,000 deaths/year, and almost half of the world's population at risk of contracting the disease. According to WHO, one child dies of malaria every minute, and the absence of an effective vaccine together with the emergence of drug resistant strains foreshadow a possible crisis that will only be resolved by discovery of a mutation-resistant therapy for the disease.
In studying the impact of the malaria parasite on its human erythrocyte host, we discovered that the parasite must activate an erythrocyte tyrosine kinase in order to egress from the red cell host at the end of its normal life cycle. Together with Dr. Francesco Turrini (University of Turin), Antonella Pantaleo (University of Sassari) and Dr. Huynh Dinh Chien (University of Hue), we have discovered that inhibitors of this erythrocyte kinase prevent propagation of the parasitemia both in vitro and in vivo. Indeed, recent human clinical trial data testing this kinase inhibitor in malaria patients in Vietnam demonstrate that the inhibitor not only has measurable antimalarial activity as a monotherapy but significantly enhances the current artemisinin-based combination therapy. Phase 3 human clinical trials are now underway in south east Asia and Africa.