Scientists find possible new malaria treatment

New Therapy Fights Drug-Resistant Malaria, But Not Yet Tested on Humans

Scientists announced last week the discovery of what may be a new treatment for drug-resistant malaria, strains of which have appeared in several of Cambodia’s western border provinces over the past few years.

However, a World Health Organization, specialist cautioned yesterday that the new therapy, while promising, had not yet been tested on humans.

An international team of researchers “discovered a novel compound that shows promise as a next generation treatment for drug-resistant malaria,” the Switzerland-based pharmaceutical giant Novartis announced in a statement on Friday. The findings were published the same day in the journal Science.

“Malaria remains a scourge. The parasite has demonstrated a frustrating ability to outwit new medicine, from quinine to today’s unsettling increased tolerance to artemisinin derivatives,” Mark Fishman, president of Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, said in the statement. “We are delighted that our scientists could provide this potential new malaria therapy.”

Novartis said human trials could follow after further testing.

Steven Bjorge, a malaria specialist with the WHO in Phnom Penh, said yesterday the findings seemed promising, but that human trials were still needed. Mr Bjorge added that increasing resistance to anti-malarials was not unexpected given the resistances to other widely available drugs, such as anti-tuberculosis drugs, that had developed in the past.

“If a new class of anti-malarials becomes available, that will greatly improve the situation for treatment,” he said by telephone. “Right now when we use combinations of two drugs they are still effective but we cannot predict how much longer that will last.”

Since 2007, resistance to artemisinin-based therapy-the most effective treatment against malaria-has appeared in the provinces of Pailin, Battambang, Pursat and Kampot.

However, the National Malaria Center and WHO offered some reason for hope in July when they announced that efforts to eliminate malaria resistance on the Thai-Cambodia border appeared to be succeeding. They cited a screening of some 2,782 people in Pailin province that came up with only two cases of the resistant strain.

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