Dundee’s Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) initiated a project in partnership with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) around 18 months ago and has already identified a compound that is curative in a mouse model of malaria at very low doses, when given orally.
Professor Ian Gilbert one of the leaders of the research effort said, ‘This is tremendously exciting and amazing progress. We have discovered an entirely new class of compound that holds a great deal of antimalarial promise.’
The project started after the biology team at the DDU screened one of their collections of compounds against the malaria parasite. The results of this screen gave rise to a number of suitable chemical start points. Over the course of 18 months, two of these compound series have been modified and refined through cycles of compound design, chemical synthesis and biological testing to the point where they show excellent activity in a mouse model of malaria.
‘MMV is pleased to be working with the dedicated team at the University of Dundee,’ said Tim Wells, Chief Scientific Officer at MMV. ‘Malaria control and elimination continues to face numerous challenges, not least of which is the threat of emerging resistance to the current effective treatment – artemisinin. In preparation for this eventuality MMV and partners are researching over 50 projects in the largest-ever pipeline of antimalarial medicines. DDU scientists have given us more compounds to work on that we hope to take through the research process. If successful, this class of compounds could well become a new source of much-needed alternatives to artemisinin, one day.’
The research has now been focused on one of the compound series, which fulfils all of MMV’s criteria for an ‘early lead’, and has now entered the phase of drug discovery called ‘lead optimisation’. In this phase, the DDU team works to further improve the properties of the compounds to the point where they can select a candidate drug. Following further studies the candidate would then be ready to enter clinical trials. Based on current progress, the scientists hope to have selected a candidate within one year.
Dr Kevin Read, another leader of the DDU team said, ‘Malaria is a debilitating, often fatal parasitic disease that kills around one million people each year, mostly children under the age of 5, living in sub-Saharan Africa. Our compounds give hope that safe, affordable, new medicines to fight malaria will be ready to replace current drug treatments that are becoming ineffective due to the spread of drug resistance.’
Notes for Editors
About the Drug Discovery Unit, University of Dundee
The University’s Drug Discovery Unit has the remit of developing translational research at Dundee and outside, by bringing together the Unit’s experience of drug discovery in the pharma/biotech sector with basic academic research to identify new treatments for diseases. It is the only fully operational and integrated drug discovery team within UK universities working across multiple disease areas, with the full range of disciplines required to produce novel hit and lead candidates.
MMV is recognized as the leading product development partnership (PDP) in the field of antimalarial drug research and development. It was established as a foundation in 1999, and registered in Switzerland. MMV’s mission is to reduce the burden of malaria in disease-endemic countries by discovering, developing and facilitating delivery of new, effective and affordable anti-malaria drugs. MMV’s vision is a world in which these innovative medicines will cure and protect the vulnerable and under-served populations at risk of malaria, and help to ultimately eradicate this terrible disease.
MMV’s strength comes from its product development partnership (PDP) model reflected in its network of more than 140 pharmaceutical, academic and endemic-country partners in 37 countries. MMV also works in close partnership with a number of WHO programs that include Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), the Global Malaria Program (GMP) and Roll Back Malaria (RBM).
The key to MMV’s success lies in the focus of its mission, and the diversity of its team of almost 50 personnel from more than 20 countries, handpicked for their expertise and commitment to global health. Governed by the values of respect, integrity, trust and excellence, MMV is recognized for its industry-style portfolio management and wise administration of funds. It manages over USD 515 million received and committed from long-term donors such as government agencies, private foundations, international organizations, and corporate foundations. In addition, it receives in-kind donations in the form of staff, facilities, and technology from its industry partners, estimated to be equal in dollar value to the funds from donors.
MMV is currently managing the largest portfolio of antimalarial R&D projects ever assembled. Of over 50 promising projects, two MMV-supported artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs), dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine and pyronaridine-artesunate, are awaiting regulatory approval by the European Medicines Agency in 2011. In November 2010, Guilin’s artesunate injection for the treatment of severe malaria was approved by the WHO’s Prequalification programme with assistance from MMV. In addition, a child-friendly version of the ACT Coartem, Coartem®-Dispersible, was developed by Novartis in partnership with MMV and launched in 2009. Since then, more than 72 million courses of treatment have been supplied to 35 malaria-endemic countries.
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