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Cancer drug could treat malaria

November 21, 2022

A cancer drug currently in clinical trials has shown the potential to cure and prevent the transmission of malaria.

A cancer drug currently in clinical trials has shown the potential to cure and prevent the transmission of malaria.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Cape Town, offers new hope against the disease that kills over half a million people annually with children under five, pregnant women, and patients with HIV being those most affected.

The research team explored whether sapanisertib, a drug that is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of various cancers, including breast cancer, endometrial cancer, glioblastoma, renal cell carcinoma, and thyroid cancer, could be used to treat malaria.

They found that sapanisertib has the potential to protect from, cure, and block malaria transmission by killing the malaria parasite at several stages during its life cycle inside its human host.

The researchers also established the mechanism by which sapanisertib kills the human malaria parasite and found that the drug inhibits multiple proteins called kinases in the malaria parasite.

Sapanisertib’s multistage activity and its antimalarial efficacy, coupled with potent inhibition of multiple protein targets, including at least two that have already been shown to be vulnerable targets for chemotherapeutic intervention, will underpin further research to evaluate the potential of repurposing sapanisertib to treat malaria.

The research team took advantage of an approach known as drug repurposing, which aims to find new uses for an existing drug, approved by a regulatory agency in one disease area, for another disease.

This approach is used to circumvent challenges with discovering and developing a new medicine from scratch, which is a lengthy and expensive process, often with low returns in terms of the number of drugs that finally make it to the market.

While new uses for approved drugs have sometimes been found serendipitously in the drug repurposing approach, strategies exist to rationally identify drugs that can be used for other diseases. In this study, the team exploited drugs that act through protein targets of human origin, which might be active in similar protein targets in the malaria parasite.

This study opens new avenues for the rational development of malaria drugs designed to inhibit two or more protein targets in the malaria parasite. This could also have advantages for patients in a clinical setting, as it is more challenging for the parasite to develop resistance to a drug that kills through multiple mechanisms.

Related: Could a blood pressure drug treat MND?

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