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San Diego Researchers Developing New Anti-Malaria Drug

— San Diego researchers have discovered what they say is a new class of drugs that target malaria. That's hopeful news to the 40 percent of the world's population who live in malaria-infected areas.

Residents of Sittwe, Myanmar wait in crowded room for their malaria test results at special clinic for malaria on May 4, 2009.
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Above: Residents of Sittwe, Myanmar wait in crowded room for their malaria test results at special clinic for malaria on May 4, 2009.

Elizabeth Winzeler, Ph.D. is a genetic researcher at Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. She says destroying the malaria parasite has gotten trickier because of drug resistance. Winzeler and her international team of scientists discovered a new anti-malarial compound, which she says attacks the parasite in its DNA.

"It's going to be killing them in a new way. The parasite has about 5,500 genes in its genome and each one of those represents a new spot by which we could kill it," she said.

Worldwide, about 250 million people are infected with malaria each year, resulting in about one million deaths.

Part of the problem in fighting the mosquito-born infection, explains Winzeler, is malaria has become drug-resistant. Another major issue, she says, is the lack of economic incentive for drug companies, since malaria is most often found in developing worlds.

As the research money pie shrinks, many scientists who compete for government grants and individual funding have to look elsewhere. Some are turning to private drug companies and other pubic partners.

Winzeler explains how her team's partnership with Novartis and international researchers made it possible to discover a new anti-malarial compound.

"The idea with this public-private partnership was to use the resources that exist within pharmaceutical companies, as well as the expertise of academic scientist in order to accelerate drug development," she said.

Her team's anti-malarial drug compound is headed for clinical trials later this year.

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