Press Release

February 5, 2015

New Investment in Promising Compounds for Antimalarial Drug Discovery

New Investment in Promising Compounds for Antimalarial Drug Discovery


US$637,000 to support quest to stay ahead of

emerging malaria drug resistance  


TOKYO, JAPAN (February 05, 2015)—The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund), a unique public health partnership that brings Japanese know-how and investment to the global fight against infectious diseases, today announced that several promising compounds have been identified as starting points for early antimalarial drug discovery and that a new investment will take the research further.


In Southeast Asia, malaria is taking longer to cure using the frontline malaria drugs, artemisinin and its derivatives, and resistance has rendered many other historical antimalarials ineffective in the region. GHIT Fund is invigorating the global fight against malaria and the need to stay one step ahead of the parasite by supporting the identification of unique chemical compounds for their potential to tackle infectious and neglected diseases in the developing world. 

GHIT will invest US$637,000* in the discovery partnership between Japanese pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo and the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), based in Switzerland. Together, they will make and test compounds that could lead to more effective antimalarials needed to control and eventually eliminate the disease.


“We’re excited to see this partnership move so quickly and with such success,” said Dr. BT Slingsby, GHIT Fund CEO. “This is a major milestone. Daiichi Sankyo and MMV only began working together to develop antimalarials soon after the launch of GHIT and they are now able to initiate a full drug discovery project.”


In the first phase, GHIT invested in the screening of 50,000 compounds designed by Daiichi Sankyo and several “hit” series able to inhibit the malaria parasite were identified. Scientists from the pharmaceutical firm and MMV, in collaboration with partners Professors Vicky Avery (Eskitis Institute, Griffith University) and Susan Charman (Monash University) in Australia, and Professor Elizabeth Winzeler (University of California—San Diego) in the US, will now further test these compounds for their “drug-like” qualities with the objective of producing at least one “lead” compound to pursue. They aim to develop a medicine to combat drug resistance and, ideally, prevent relapses often suffered by people who have two types of malaria, Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium ovale.


Additionally, researchers are focusing on protecting people from getting malaria and blocking transmission of the parasite. “Hits” that showed promise against multiple stages of malaria will be further developed into lead series, with the aim of ultimately delivering a candidate drug to better control and eradicate the disease.


“Our mission is to contribute to the enrichment of the quality of life around the world through the creation of innovative pharmaceuticals,” said George Nakayama, representative director, president and CEO, Daiichi Sankyo. “We are grateful to promote the new drug discoveries for controlling the spread of devastating illnesses such as malaria in collaboration with GHIT Fund on this occasion.”


Investment Supports Early Drug Discovery

This investment marks GHIT’s second round of funding to support very early-stage drug research through its “Hit-to-Lead Platform.” GHIT’s Hit-to-Lead Platform invests in projects with the goal of converting drug “hits” from the compound libraries of Japanese organizations into “lead compounds” that show promise against infectious diseases but 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 Product Development Platform, which invests in a pipeline of new tools.


New Malaria Tools Urgently Needed

In 2013, there were an estimated 198 million malaria cases worldwide and 584,000 deaths, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite these stark numbers, enormous progress has been made with the malaria death rate having decreased 47 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2013, according to the World Health Organization. Yet challenges such as inevitable resistance to malaria drugs pose a serious threat. New and more effective drugs and vaccines are needed to prepare for this inevitability so that we can achieve the goals of eliminating and eradicating the disease.


“With growing drug resistance, now more than ever, we need new and better drugs to tackle malaria,” said David Reddy, CEO of MMV. “This partnership will enable us to test compounds that could lead to the next-generation of medicines that might get us one step closer to eliminating this devastating disease.”


* At the exchange rate of USD1 = JPY100.