A drug being used to combat infections associated with AIDS also prevents malaria, US researchers have said.
The drug, Malarone, made by Glaxo-Wellcome, prevents people from becoming infected with the malaria parasite when they are bitten by mosquitoes, according to a report written by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
When combined with another drug, Malarone is especially effective against malaria. The two-drug combination is already being used in programs in Africa, and the US Food and Drug Administration has told Glaxo it is “approvable,” meaning it could be approved for use in the US soon, Reuters reported.
Reuters, citing an article in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, reported that Theresa Shapiro and colleagues at Johns Hopkins said Malarone, known generically as atovaquone, was 100 percent effective in keeping volunteers from developing malaria when bitten by mosquitoes carrying plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for fatal forms of malaria.
“Atovaquone attacks the parasite at a different point in its life cycle from other drugs—one that reaches the parasite sooner,” Shapiro said in a statement that Reuters quoted.
When Malarone is paired with proguanil, a malaria-fighting drug, it should work even better—preventing drug resistance from developing, she said.
“Clobbering parasites at two places is greater insurance that you clean them out,” Reuters quoted Shapiro as saying.
There are drugs that can help prevent malaria infection but travelers must take them weeks after a visit to a malaria-carrying country.
“With atovaquone, travelers should be able to take their last dose as they leave,” Shapiro was quoted as saying.
The study was small, Reuters reported, adding that only 12 volunteers took the drug before allowing themselves to be bitten by infected mosquitoes.
Four volunteers who did not take the drug developed malaria, while those on the drug had no signs of infection, Reuters said. These four received quick drug treatment for their infection and have been clear of malaria for a year.
Glaxo told Reuters it was preparing to donate the combined form of atovaquone and proguanil to a nonprofit foundation that will distribute the drug, with tight restrictions, in countries worst hit by malaria.
The combination has been approved across Latin America, Europe, Asia and in Australia, Reuters said.
Malaria is a leading cause of death in the tropics. An estimated 300 million to 500 million cases occur annually, with 1.5 million to 2.7 million being fatal.