End of road for drug-resistant malaria?

Melbourne: Malarial parasites resistant to existing drugs may have a difficult time soon, as researchers have now developed a compound that blocks the action of a key 'gatekeeper' enzyme essential for malaria parasite survival.

The compound, called WEHI-916, is the first step toward a new class of anti-malarial drugs that could cure and prevent malaria infections caused by all species of the parasite, including those resistant to existing drugs.

Researchers developed WEHI-916 to block the critical malaria enzyme Plasmepsin V.

"In this study, we developed a novel compound to target Plasmepsin V and showed for the first time that the enzyme is essential for survival of the malaria parasite," said Justin Boddey from Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia.

The research team had previously shown Plasmepsin V is a gatekeeper enzyme responsible for controlling the transport of critical proteins in and out of the parasite.

"WEHI-916 is really exciting because if you block Plasmepsin V, the malaria parasite dies," Boddey added.

Plasmepsin V was an ideal drug target because its inhibition effectively halted the transport of hundreds of malaria proteins, he said.

"We found that blocking Plasmepsin V kills malaria parasites and delivered a new and effective potential drug at the same time."

Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria each year, with more than 200 million people infected.

Current anti-malarial drugs are becoming less effective as the parasite develops resistance to the drugs, making the search for new targets that can kill all species of malaria critical.

The findings appeared in the journal PLOS Biology.

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