Grant investment will support development of new synthetic ingredient
to help combat resistance to malaria drugs
The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund), a new public health partnership that is bringing Japanese know-how and investment to the global fight against infectious diseases, today announced a grant investment of US$60,000 to help develop innovative, totally synthetic compounds for treating malaria—a potential solution to combat increasing resistance to current drugs.
The first grant investment of GHIT’s Hit-to-Lead Platform, which was established in March, 2014, was awarded to Japan’s Hokkaido University. The project is a partnership with The Kitasato Institute, also in Japan, and Medicines for Malaria Venture, a non-profit product development partnership based in Switzerland that develops new safe and effective and affordable antimalarial drugs.
The project is exploring ways of making a new totally synthetic compound, which is very similar to artemisinin, the current key ingredient in the mainstay antimalarial medicines. The ultimate goal is to explore whether these ingredients can be made more cost effectively by total synthesis, and will also explore their activity emerging drug resistance. Further, researchers will also explore whether the new compound will block transmission of the malaria parasite, thus providing substantial protection from reinfection.
“New highly safe and effective medicines are critical to treating and combatting malaria, especially as we face a looming and serious threat of drug resistance,” said Dr. BT Slingsby, GHIT Fund CEO. “This innovation holds promise of becoming a next-generation malaria medicine that could potentially make a profound impact on saving lives.”
GHIT’s First Grant Investment to Support Early Drug Discovery
The grant investment marks the first among GHIT’s Hit-to-Lead Platform (HTLP) that funds projects with the goal of converting drug “hits” from the compound libraries of Japanese pharmaceutical companies, research institutes and universities into “lead compounds” that show promise against infectious diseases such as malaria but likely require further research and development before they can be tested as human drugs. The Hit-to-Lead Platform provides a bridge from early drug discovery into GHIT’s typical grant phrase.
Urgent need for better malaria drugs
Malaria sickens more than 200 million people a year and kills more than 600,000, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa. Artemisinin-based combination drugs are the World Health Organization’s recommended frontline treatment for the deadliest form of malaria. But the key ingredient, artemisinin, is derived from the sweet wormwood plant, and its availability and price can fluctuate widely. In addition, malaria parasites have shown resistance to artemisinin, threatening global efforts to reduce malaria cases and deaths. Researchers aim to test the new molecules against drug resistant strains from Western Cambodia in hopes that a new product could become a tool for controlling malaria in artemisinin-resistant areas.
The ongoing project has already successfully generated several compounds that have shown promising antimalarial activities comparable to that of artesunate, an artemisinin derivative.
The grant investment follows a major milestone in synthetic technology this year when shipments of a new semi-synthetic artemisinin combination drug began going to malaria endemic countries in Africa.
“Synthetic technology is pioneering and exciting work that can potentially lead to steady supplies of more safe and effective malaria medicines and at lower costs,” Slingsby said. “We’re pleased to support its progress.”
The GHIT Fund is a public-private partnership between five Japanese pharmaceutical companies, two government ministries and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in April 2013 with a potential five-year commitment of more than US$100 million, the organization taps Japanese research and development (R&D) to fight neglected diseases. It is the first fund to involve a consortium of pharmaceutical companies, government and civil society working together to support R&D for neglected diseases. The combination of Japan’s government and its pharmaceutical industry—the third largest in the world—brings a powerful engine of knowledge and innovation to the development of medications for the developing world.
For more information, please visit http://www.ghitfund.org/.
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