Susceptibility of Ugandan Plasmodium falciparum Isolates to the Antimalarial Drug Pipeline
Malaria, especially Plasmodium falciparum infection, remains an enormous problem, and its treatment and control are seriously challenged by drug resistance. New antimalarial drugs are needed. To characterize the Medicines for Malaria Venture pipeline of antimalarials under development, we assessed the ex vivo drug susceptibilities to 19 compounds targeting or potentially impacted by mutations in P. falciparum ABC transporter I family member 1, acetyl-CoA synthetase, cytochrome b, dihydroorotate dehydrogenase, elongation factor 2, lysyl-tRNA synthetase, phenylalanyl-tRNA synthetase, plasmepsin X, prodrug activation and resistance esterase, and V-type H+ ATPase of 998 fresh P. falciparum clinical isolates collected in eastern Uganda from 2015 to 2022. Drug susceptibilities were assessed by 72-h growth inhibition (half-maximum inhibitory concentration [IC50]) assays using SYBR green. Field isolates were highly susceptible to lead antimalarials, with low- to midnanomolar median IC50s, near values previously reported for laboratory strains, for all tested compounds. However, outliers with decreased susceptibilities were identified. Positive correlations between IC50 results were seen for compounds with shared targets. We sequenced genes encoding presumed targets to characterize sequence diversity, search for polymorphisms previously selected with in vitro drug pressure, and determine genotype-phenotype associations. We identified many polymorphisms in target genes, generally in <10% of isolates, but none were those previously selected in vitro with drug pressure, and none were associated with significantly decreased ex vivo drug susceptibility. Overall, Ugandan P. falciparum isolates were highly susceptible to 19 compounds under development as next-generation antimalarials, consistent with a lack of preexisting or novel resistance-conferring mutations in circulating Ugandan parasites.
Drug resistance necessitates the development of new antimalarial drugs. It is important to assess the activities of compounds under development against parasites now causing disease in Africa, where most malaria cases occur, and to determine if mutations in these parasites may limit the efficacies of new agents. We found that African isolates were generally highly susceptible to the 19 studied lead antimalarials. Sequencing of the presumed drug targets identified multiple mutations in these genes, but these mutations were generally not associated with decreased antimalarial activity. These results offer confidence that the activities of the tested antimalarial compounds now under development will not be limited by preexisting resistance-mediating mutations in African malaria parasites.
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