Cancer-fighting drugs hold promise against malaria

Washington: The US scientists looking for new drugs to fight malaria have identified certain compounds - currently in clinical trials to treat cancer - that could curb drug-resistant malaria strains from spreading.

Researchers from Duke University identified more than 30 enzyme-blocking molecules, called protein kinase inhibitors, that curb malaria before symptoms start.

“By focusing on treatments that act early, before a person is infected and feels sick, we hope to give malaria -- especially drug-resistant strains -- less time to spread,” said assistant professor Emily Derbyshire at Duke.

Using a strain of malaria that primarily infects rodents, Derbyshire and Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School tested 1,358 compounds for their ability to keep parasites in the liver in check - both in test tubes and in mice.

They identified 31 compounds that inhibit malaria growth without harming the host.

Several of the compounds are currently in clinical trials to treat cancers like leukemia and myeloma.

The same compounds that stopped the stage of malaria that lurks in the liver also worked against the stage that lives in the blood.

“Malaria-free mice that received a single dose before being bitten by infected mosquitos were able to avoid developing the disease altogether,” Derbyshire noted.

Diversifying the antimalarial arsenal could also extend the lifespan of existing drugs, since relying less heavily on our most commonly used weapons gives the parasite fewer opportunities to develop resistance, researchers emphasised.

The findings appeared online in the journal ChemBioChem.

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