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International malaria research consortium tackles deadly disease

Tue, 10/26/2010 - 9:33pm
EurekAlert

Toronto, Canada and New Delhi, India, October 27, 2010 -- Research teams from three academic institutions and two private sector companies on two continents have come together to form the International malaria research consortium for the development of novel classes of antimalarials. This bold initiative will develop novel classes of drugs against malaria, a deadly disease in desperate need of new treatments.

Malaria is one of humanities most devastating illnesses with an estimated 247 million cases worldwide in 2008 and almost one million deaths- mostly among children. In Africa a child dies every 45 seconds of Malaria and the disease accounts for 20% of all childhood deaths. Furthermore drug resistance is steadily undermining the effectiveness of existing treatments - driving the need for new therapies.

Each of the consortium's five partners brings unique capabilities spanning the spectrum from academic research to commercial development. They also bring their existing technologies to the table and have hit upon unique combinations of these existing technologies which, when combined with new drugs, represent entirely new approaches to treating and potentially eradicating this disease.

'It was a fascinating process to see different organizations with deep knowledge in their individual fields coming together and combining this knowledge to create innovative and new approaches to the treatment of this disease'' Prof. Virander Chauhan, Director, International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology-New Delhi

""Creative leverage" is a term that comes to mind in describing this program - in addition to developing new therapeutics, we are also bringing together existing technologies developed by the partners and combining them in new ways such that one will have the potential to boost the effectiveness of another." Dr. Lakshmi P. Kotra, Director, Center for Molecular Design and Preformulations, University Health Network and University of Toronto.

In a field that has seen very few new drugs introduced in the past 30 years, and where most of these drugs have lost effectiveness due to the emergence of drug resistant malaria strains, this program endeavors to develop entirely new classes of drugs, and furthermore will seek to develop drugs that, by their design, will hinder the emergence of drug resistance.

With funding from International Science and Technology Partnerships Canada Inc. (ISTP Canada) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Government of India, these new therapies will be developed and refined. Led by the site directors of each partner, Lakshmi Kotra at University Health Network/University of Toronto (Consortium lead in Canada), David Bell at Therapure Biopharma, Jitendra Verma at Lifecare Innovations, Asif Mohammed at the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Consortium lead in India), and R. Mahesh at Birla Institute of Technology and Science, this program brings together a dynamic and talented groups of world-class scientists for a common cause of advancing basic research discoveries to preclinical development.

Current projects include the development of drugs against three malaria targets that the academic groups have researched extensively. This research is combined with the state-of-the-art tools and expertise in computer modeling, medicinal chemistry and drug delivery to advance potential drugs to the point where human studies can begin. The consortium is making excellent progress and is open to additional partners with the same vision.

One example of this technology combination process is embodied in an objective to treat a form of malaria that resides in the liver. This form of the disease can re-emerge months or years after the initial infection to cause new illnesses in that individual. Additionally this form of the disease can re-introduce malaria into local populations where it had previously been eliminated - frustrating permanent eradication efforts. To tackle this problem the program will combine new drugs developed with a novel technology from one of the consortium partners that is designed to deliver drugs to the liver in an effective form.

Other technology harnessed under the program will allow antimalarial drugs to be released slowly over long periods of time. This slow release gives the potential for a "one pill cure" an accomplishment which would revolutionize the treatment of malaria in a cost-effective manner.

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