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a 3D rendering of red blood cells and the malaria parasite plasmodium, with green tubes representing the plasmodium and infected red blood cells containing yellow dots, with healthy red blood cells in the periphery, all on a dark grey background

Developing a New Malaria Treatment That Aims to Protect from the Disease

The injectable formulation is affordable, easily administered, and could potentially provide months of protection

by SRI International
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SRI today announced that researchers are developing a new treatment that aims to provide a better option to fight malaria, particularly for people in low-income and rural regions. Researchers in SRI’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Lab are working on an affordable, shelf-stable anti-malarial drug formulation that could provide months of protection against the mosquito-borne disease with just a single injection, which means that individuals would no longer have to worry about missing a dose. Additionally, it has a low propensity for resistance and can be effective where drug resistance exists.

“Current malaria prevention drugs have issues—resistance, patient compliance, cost, distribution—but we have high hopes that this drug can address these obstacles,” said Gita Shankar, Senior Director of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Lab at SRI. “I dream that we can finally eradicate malaria, and I believe we’re on the path to do that.”

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Typically, treatments come as pills that must be taken daily or weekly. The costs of the medication can be a burden, and people often have trouble adhering to the treatment regimen because they miss doses or take the pills at the wrong time. The World Health Organization has reported that in part due to incomplete treatments, malarial parasites in some regions have developed resistance to multiple anti-malarial drugs, making them less effective.

In a paper published in the European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Shankar and her colleagues demonstrated that their novel injectable formulation could slowly release the anti-malarial drug ELQ-331 into the bloodstream. The formulation maintained high enough concentrations of the drug to act as a long-term preventative against malaria parasites.

The part of the drug that fights off malaria parasites was designed and synthesized by Professor Michael K. Riscoe and his research team at the Portland VA Medical Center and at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Riscoe’s lab received funding for this study from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Institutes of Health, and Medicine for Malaria Venture. The OHSU team found that developing a formulation that could remain in the body for an extended period was a big challenge.

“It was basically impossible to administer and sustain its effectiveness for a long period,” Shankar said. “My group’s expertise is in targeting drugs efficiently. We developed a formulation that allowed this challenging molecule to be given in an injectable form and to be available in circulation for a sustained period.” Shankar and team developed a novel formulation that kept the drug in circulation in the body at effective levels for more than 80 days, working to prevent malaria.

The drug is not ready to be tested in humans, but efforts to scale up manufacturing and efforts to test safety and efficacy are underway. If results confirm that the drug is safe and effective, then it could move into clinical trials.

The SRI biosciences division integrates basic biomedical research with drug and diagnostics discovery, as well as preclinical and clinical development. It has advanced more than 200 drugs to clinical trials, and 25 have reached the market. The division is focused on novel platforms and programs in a variety of therapeutic areas targeting high unmet medical needs. Almost 50 years ago, SRI created one of the first anti-malarial treatments (Halofantrine), and great progress has been made against a life-threatening disease that still affects hundreds of thousands of people per year.

- This press release was provided by SRI International and has been edited for style and clarity