Groundbreaking research is making it possible to screen compounds directly on the dormant liver stages of P. vivax for the first time
Today, at MMV’s 14th Stakeholders’ Meeting in Bali, three discovery teams led by Prof. Dennis Kyle, University of South Florida, Prof. Elizabeth Winzeler, University of California, and Dr Jetsumon Sattabongkot Prachumsri, Mahidol University, Thailand, jointly received MMV’s Project of the Year 2016. The award recognizes their impressive progress in developing new assay platforms to test compounds for activity against the dormant liver stages of malaria. These new assays are making it possible to screen and identify novel compounds that could prevent relapse and protect against Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium ovale malaria.
The relapse of P. vivax malaria is the cause of a significant burden of disease – WHO estimates it causes around 8.5 million clinical infections every year.1 Yet only one anti-relapse medicine, primaquine, is currently available with a second, tafenoquine, in the late stages of clinical development. Both these medicines increase the risk of hemolysis in a small percentage of patients, who have a deficiency in the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (on average 8% of people in malaria-endemic countries).2
Basic research on the biology of the relapse of P. vivax has historically lagged behind that for work on the blood stages of Plasmodium falciparum (the species of malaria responsible for the majority of deaths in Africa). This is partly because P. vivax parasites are difficult to access and maintain in laboratory assays, and partly because the dormancy occurs inside liver cells, adding extra complexity. Today, thanks to a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MMV-led global research strategy and these new assays, this is set to change.
“There is a huge unmet medical need for new medicines to stop the debilitating relapse of P. vivax malaria,” said Dr David Reddy, MMV’s CEO. “Each episode keeps a child or adult from school or work for at least 3 days. This places a huge burden on countries and communities that can afford it least. These three research teams have made impressive strides towards helping meet this unmet need and are deserving recipients of MMV’s Project of the Year 2016.”