Scientists develop new malaria drug

Cathy O'Leary

Australian scientists have helped develop a promising new drug that could treat malaria for only one dollar a dose.

The discovery, reported in the journal Nature, is based on a new compound that can kill the parasite that causes malaria, requiring only a single dose treatment that reduces the risk of the disease spreading.

The drug has worked in mice and is now being prepared for testing in humans.

It could have big implications for developing countries, where malaria is responsible for 500,000 deaths a year, as well as in Western countries where an increasing number of people travel to malaria-ridden nations on holidays or as fly-in, fly-out workers.

Australia was declared malaria-free in 1983 but there has been an average of 58 cases of imported malaria in WA each year since 2010, with 21 cases so far this year.

People travelling to countries where malaria is endemic are advised to avoid mosquito bites and take anti-malarial drugs.

But experts say there is an urgent need for cheap new drugs to treat malaria because the parasite that causes the disease, and is transmitted by infected mosquitoes, has developed resistance to many drugs.

Lead researcher Ian Gilbert from the University of Dundee in Britain and more than 60 international colleagues, including scientists from Queensland, Victoria and the Northern Territory, have discovered a potent compound known as DDD107498 that is effective against different life cycle stages of the parasite.

They estimate the drug will cost only about US$1 a treatment.