A new breakthrough in malaria research offers hope against a disease that claims over half a million lives annually, according to a recent article in the journal Science Translational Medicine. A cancer drug currently undergoing clinical trials, called sapanisertib, has shown potential for use as a cure, protection against, and prevention of the transmission of malaria. The discovery was made by an international team of researchers that includes scientists from Penn State University. The researchers explored whether sapanisertib could be used to treat malaria and discovered that the drug had the potential to kill the malaria parasite at several stages during its life cycle. The researchers used an approach known as drug repurposing, which aims to find new uses for existing drugs approved by regulatory agencies for one disease, for another disease. The research team exploited drugs that act through protein targets of human origin, which might be active in similar protein targets in the malaria parasite. Sapanisertib’s efficacy in treating malaria is due to its multistage activity and its antimalarial efficacy, coupled with potent inhibition of multiple protein targets. Repurposing existing drugs can shorten the process of drug discovery and development as most candidates will have already been through several stages of clinical development and have well-known exposure and safety profiles in humans. Although 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. 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. The research team is now working to understand the drivers of sapanisertib efficacy and potential safety concerns of using a cancer drug in treating malaria.
The potential of sapanisertib for malaria treatment
The potential impact of this breakthrough is immense, as malaria remains a leading cause of death in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there were 229 million cases of malaria in 2019, resulting in 409,000 deaths. The majority of these deaths were children under the age of five.
Current malaria treatments face a number of challenges, including drug resistance and limited efficacy against multiple stages of the malaria parasite’s life cycle. The development of new drugs is a time-consuming and expensive process, and finding effective treatments for neglected and tropical diseases like malaria can be particularly challenging due to limited resources and financial returns.
Repurposing existing drugs for malaria treatment
The drug repurposing approach used in this study offers a potential solution to these challenges by identifying new uses for existing drugs that have already undergone clinical development and have known safety profiles in humans. This approach has been used successfully in other diseases, including HIV and cancer.
While sapanisertib was initially developed as a cancer drug, the researchers found that it has the potential to target multiple stages of the malaria parasite’s life cycle, including the stage when the parasite is transmitted from humans to mosquitoes. By inhibiting multiple protein targets in the malaria parasite, sapanisertib may be less susceptible to resistance than current malaria drugs, which often target a single protein target.
The researchers hope that the findings from this study will lead to the development of new drugs that can be used to treat malaria, particularly in regions where the disease is endemic. By repurposing existing drugs like sapanisertib, researchers may be able to accelerate the development of new treatments and save lives in the process.
Addressing safety concerns with using cancer drugs for malaria treatment
However, it is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the efficacy and safety of using sapanisertib to treat malaria. The drug was originally developed as a cancer drug, and the researchers will need to carefully evaluate its potential impact on patients with malaria.
In addition, the cost and availability of the drug may also be a challenge in some regions. Cancer drugs are often expensive, and many people in regions where malaria is endemic may not have access to the latest treatments.
Despite these challenges, the potential impact of this breakthrough is significant. Malaria remains a leading cause of death worldwide, particularly among children under the age of five, pregnant women, and patients with HIV. By repurposing existing drugs like sapanisertib, researchers may be able to accelerate the development of new treatments and save lives in the process.
In conclusion, the findings from this study offer new hope in the fight against malaria. By repurposing an existing cancer drug, researchers have identified a potential new treatment for a disease that continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives each year. While more research is needed to fully understand the safety and efficacy of using sapanisertib to treat malaria, this breakthrough offers an important step forward in the development of new treatments for neglected and tropical diseases.