In a major breakthrough, researchers at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have re-positioned an anti-hepatitis C drug, Alisporivir, to treat malaria caused by drug-resistant strains.
The research will help in formulating better strategies for the effective treatment of drug-resistant parasites.
One of the most infectious diseases around the globe, malaria is mainly caused by a unicellular protozoan parasite, Plasmodium Falciparum, in humans. Its treatment mainly relies on Artemisinin and its derivative drugs. Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is recommended as a first-line malaria treatment.
At the East Asia Summit in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed that India would eliminate malaria by 2030 but several challenges lie ahead.
One of the major challenges in effectively treating malaria is that some strains of the malaria parasite have developed resistance against Artemisinin and its partner drugs, resulting in significant treatment failure. Artemisinin-resistant Plasmodium parasites were first detected in western Cambodia in 2008.
As many as 22 researchers from the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine of JNU headed by Prof. and lead Scientists Shailja Singh and Prof. Anand Ranganathan worked for more than two years to achieve this feat.
Prof. Shailja Singh, who is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee, said: “The current malaria treatment ACT requires new partner drugs with a long plasma half-life to combine with Artemisinin. Alisporivir, having an approximate plasma half-life of 90 hours, was found effective against Artemisinin-resistant parasites in combination with Artemisinin. These findings represent Alisporivir as a potential drug candidate for malaria treatment, either alone or as a partner drug for ACT”.
Prof. Anand Ranganathan, another lead corresponding author of the research work, stated: “We have repositioned Alisporivir and studied its antimalarial potential against Plasmodium parasites. Alisporivir showed potent Antiparasitic activity against Plasmodium both in blood stage culture and in the mouse model. In addition, Alisporivir does not induce eryptosis, the suicidal death of red blood cells.”
Explaining the importance of the breakthrough, Prof. Singh further said: “The process of drug development is tedious and costly. One of the most effective solutions could be drug repositioning. Drug repositioning is a process to identify new medical uses for an existing drug. Major benefits of drug repositioning include being more cost-effective, requiring less time, and having an already known safety profile.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been running campaigns to eradicate malaria since 1955. However, a shortage of resources and the emergence of drug-resistant strains challenge achieving this goal.
“This major breakthrough adds to these efforts and will help to enter a new path for malaria treatment,” Prof. Ranganathan added.