10:48pm Friday 29 May 2020

Malaria Box to advance drug discovery

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The three malaria boxes, sent to Griffith University’s Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies, University of Melbourne and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, are part of a global effort by the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to encourage and support researchers to discover new drugs to combat malaria and other neglected diseases.

All 400 compounds in the Malaria Box have confirmed activity against the blood-stage of P. falciparum – the most deadly of the malaria parasites – and were selected by experienced medicinal chemists from an extensive screening of around four million compounds from the chemical libraries of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline.

The Malaria Box includes 200 drug-like compounds as starting points for oral drug discovery as well as 200 probe-like compounds representing the broadest cross-section of chemical diversity for use as biological tools.

Eskitis Institute Director Professor Ron Quinn and his team will use the compounds to test their efficacy against a panel of 40 protein targets.

“The challenge for us it to move from our current understanding that the compounds kill the parasite, to an understanding of how they do it,” Professor Quinn said. “Defining how they work would be a quantum leap towards the development of new medicines for malaria.”

Professor Quinn said the great advantage of the Malaria Box is that it makes the process he and his team need to go through much simpler and faster.

“There are several thousand compounds in the literature and the possibilities to be tested are mind-boggling,” he said. “The fact that these have been screened and selected as those with the greatest potential means we can now go straight into testing them.”

Malaria is one of the most widespread infectious diseases of our time, taking the lives of over 650,000 people a year. It is the fifth leading cause of death worldwide and almost half the world’s population (3.3 billion) is at risk.

The Eskitis Institute currently screens natural products and synthetic compounds in the search for new drug targets to treat a variety of different diseases.

Since 1993, the Institute has built a natural product screening collection containing hundreds of thousands of natural products derived from more than 45,000 samples of plants and marine invertebrates collected from tropical Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, Tasmania, Papua New Guinea and China.

Griffith University researchers continue to accelerate the pace of drug development in malarial research, with the development of both anti-malarial drugs and a vaccine.

In addition to the Eskitis Institute’s research, a malaria vaccine to protect against all known strains of the deadly disease is being launched by Griffith’s Institute for Glycomics. Led by Professor Michael Good, scientific development of the new patented and trademarked technology PlasProtecT™ will be undertaken at the Laboratory of Vaccines for the Developing World, with clinical translation
into Phase 1 human vaccine trials at Queensland Health facilities.

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