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Malaria Box May Hold the Key to Defeating Malaria
In order to jump-start research on drug treatments, the Gates Foundation, the Medicines for Malaria Venture and GlaxoSmithKline put together a “Malaria Box” in 2012. The Malaria Box is a collection of 400 different compounds that are known to combat malaria in some way.

More specifically, 200 of the compounds are supposed to act like drugs and would directly be used in developing more effective oral drug treatment. The other 200 act more like biological probes that, if applied correctly in malaria research, could allow researchers to make important observations about the behavior of malaria.

Malaria is a widespread disease to which nearly half the world population is at risk. There were about 214 million cases in 2015, resulting in 438,000 deaths. Of this group, young children were particularly susceptible.

More effective drug treatments for malaria are imperative. Current treatments involve prescribing many drugs to be taken over a number of days. Sometimes patients are not able to receive the full treatment of drugs. Not only does this lead to continuing infection, but an incomplete treatment also contributes to the rise of multi-drug resistant malaria. The fact that malaria parasites continue to evolve poses an obstacle to developing drugs that will consistently work in the future.

The Malaria Box was given as part of a grant to 17 research projects in order to accelerate malaria research. After a few years, these research teams yielded positive results in the battle against malaria. Some researchers have tried to identify weak points to attack in the malaria parasite. For example, Dr. Jacquin Niles of MIT is trying to isolate genes particularly susceptible to attack by conducting tests on genetically modified parasites.

Dr. Jake Baum of the Imperial College of London is studying compounds that could block malaria transmission. He is researching whether molecular compounds that do not remain in the bloodstream for as long as other anti-malaria drugs can still effectively combat malaria.

After the success of the Malaria Box, other projects to distribute sets of compounds have been started. The ReFRAME library at the California Institute for Biomedical Research contains more than 10,000 compounds that are known to combat various diseases. Giving researchers access to these sets of compounds provides them with a strong and focused starting point from which to conduct their studies.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr