Drug-resistant pathogens have been a growing concern in this world for the past few decades. Thankfully, scientists are coming up with innovative solutions to find ways around these pathogens’ sneaky behavior. Examples of these are the production of these game-changing synthetic antibiotics or the clever bioengineering of bacteriophages (viruses that infect viruses).
A research team from the University of Melbourne in Australia has recently added another weapon to the arsenal against drug-resistant microorganisms, identifying the antimalarial compound ML901 which specifically targets the malaria parasite without harming mammalian cells.
ML901 works by an unusual hijacking mechanism, where the compound convinces the malaria parasite to self-destruct. Co-lead author Leann Tilley explains: “Imagine a stealth weapon that can be used to launch a self-destruct attack on your vehicle – slamming on the brakes and cutting the engine. ML901 finds a particular chink in the machinery that the malaria parasite uses to generate the proteins needed to reproduce itself and stops it from doing so.”
Multiple global labs have been involved in testing the compound using both human and animal blood. They found that malaria that is resistant to currently used drugs, showed rapid and prolonged killing when met with ML901 in all samples. Plus, the new drug showed efficient action in each stage of the parasite’s life cycle, meaning it shows potential for preventing infections and transmission as well as treating the disease.
As the efficacy of current antimalarial drugs decreases with time, this treatment could offer a much-needed alternative for the hundreds of millions of people infected with malaria each year. “While there is much work to be done to fine-tune what we’ve discovered, these results are really encouraging in the search for new antimalarials,” said Tilley.
The group hopes this is just the beginning of their work in the development of new antimalarial drug candidates. “We believe this is just the beginning. We now have the possibility of finding drugs, similar to ML901, that target a range of deadly infectious diseases, including multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. The work opens up several new drug discovery avenues,” added Tilley.