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African antimalarial research bears first fruit

Promising new compound becomes the first stemming from an African–MMV collaboration to enter preclinical development

A recently discovered compound from the aminopyridine class, code named MMV390048, caused quite a stir at the MMV Expert Scientific Advisory Committee (ESAC) meeting in Toulouse, France.

The compound shows potent activity against multiple points in the malaria parasite’s lifecycle. This means that it not only has the potential to become part of a single-dose cure but might also be able to block transmission of the parasite from person to person. On this basis it was selected by MMV’s ESAC for further development – making it the first compound researched on African soil to enter preclinical development in partnership with MMV.

The aminopyridine series was initially identified by Griffith University scientists in Australia as part of MMV’s extensive malaria screening campaign of around 6 million compounds. A team of scientists from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) in South Africa, led by Prof. Kelly Chibale then scrutinised and explored the antimalarial potential of the series further. With parasitological and pharmacological support from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and Monash University, respectively, Kelly’s team selected the most promising compounds from the series to be optimized and re-tested. In just 18 months the team had identified and developed a candidate suitable for preclinical development.

“We are very excited that this promising compound, researched by African scientists, has been selected by MMV for further development,” said Prof. Kelly Chibale, Founder and Director, UCT H3-D. “This is truly a proud day for African science and African scientists! Our team is hopeful that the compound will emerge from rigorous testing as an extremely effective medicine for malaria – a disease that accounts for 24% of total child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.1”

Mrs Naledi Pandor, the South African Minister of Science & Technology, said: "This is a significant victory in the battle to alleviate the burden of disease in the subcontinent. Clearly the war on this disease is not yet won, but I am excited by the role that our excellent scientists have played in this milestone in finding a potential cure for malaria and possibly preventing its transmission. Congratulations to Prof. Kelly Chibale and all involved.”

“This is a great achievement and an excellent example of the quality of research that can be fostered in Africa,” said Dr Tim Wells, MMV’s Chief Scientific Officer. “We look forward to seeing more exciting compounds emerge from Kelly’s team and are proud to be collaborating with the H3-D centre; not only is it conducting excellent science today but it is also providing world-class training for the next generation of African scientists.”

1. Murray C et al. Global malaria mortality between 1980 and 2010: a systematic analysis. The Lancet. 379(9814):413-31 (2012).

Jaya Banerjji | EurekAlert!
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