Re-orienting anti-malarial drug development to better serve pregnant women

12 Apr 2022

Myriam El Gaaloul, Belen Tornesi, Flynn Lebus, David Reddy and Wiweka Kaszubska 

Malaria Journal

Doi: 10.1186/s12936-022-04137-2

Photo: iStock.com/Bet_Noire

Abstract

Malaria is one of the most serious infectious diseases affecting predominantly low- and middle-income countries, where pregnant women are among the populations at risk. There are limited options to prevent or treat malaria in pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, and existing ones may not work optimally in areas where the threat of drug resistance is rising. As malaria elimination is a key goal of the global health community, the inclusion of pregnant women in the adult population to protect from malaria will be key to achieving success. New, safe, and effective options are needed but it can take decades of evidence-gathering before a medicine is recommended for use in pregnancy. This is because pregnant women are typically not included in pre-registration clinical trials due to fear of causing harm. Data to support dosing and safety in pregnancy are subsequently collected in post-licensure studies. There have been growing calls in recent years that this practice needs to change, amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing public awareness that newly developed medicines generally cannot be administered to pregnant women from the onset. The development of new anti-malarials should ensure that data informing their use in pregnancy and breastfeeding are available earlier. To achieve this, a mindset change and a different approach to medications for pregnant women are needed. Changes in non-clinical, translational, and clinical approaches in the drug development pathway, in line with recent recommendations from the regulatory bodies are proposed in this Comment. The new approach applies to any malaria-endemic region, regardless of the type of Plasmodium responsible for malaria cases. By incorporating intentional and systematic data collection from pre-registration stages of development through post-licensure, it will be possible to inform on the benefit/risk balance of a new anti-malarial earlier and help ensure that the needs of pregnant individuals are addressed in a more timely and equitable manner in the future.

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