Scientists have developed a new and improved drug regimen to treat malaria that they say is as effective as the standard therapy and more convenient.
Malaria infects up to 500 million people each year and claims the lives of one million people, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa.
The disease is transmitted by the bite of the female mosquito infecting people with the parasite that causes the disease.
Researchers have been trying to develop an effective alternative therapy to the standard antimalarial regimen to give health care workers in malaria endemic countries more effective treatments, according to Isabelle Borghini-Fuhrer, associate director of clinical sciences at the organization Medicines for Malaria Venture or MMV in Geneva.
"It's very important because some drugs are better tolerated by some patients than others," said Isabelle Borghini-Fuhrer. "Then there's also the phenomenon of resistance to certain drugs that appears when drugs are widely used. And therefore there needs to be alternative treatments so patients can be immediately treated."
Borghini-Fuhrer says the new combination therapy of the drugs pyronaridine and artensunate are every bit as effective and only need to be administered once a day. The regimen that's currently in widespread use must be taken two times per day.
A large clinical trial comparing the two antimalarial therapies was conducted in seven locations in Africa and three in Asia in participants ages 3 to 60-years-old. In the head-to-head contest, almost 800 patients were given the new drug combination and nearly 400 participants received the standard therapy of artemether-lumefantrine. Each were administered for three days.
The new treatment turned out to be 99.5 percent effective in ridding patients of the malaria parasite. The standard combination therapy was effective in 90 percent of patients.
Steven Duparc is chief medical officer at Medicines for Malaria Venture and co-author of the study. Duparc says MMV has asked the drugs' manufacturers to keep the cost of the new combination therapy down.
"To ensure the drug will not cost more than $0.5 for the treatment of children and less than one U.S. dollar for the treatment of adults," said Steven Duparc.
Duparc says the new antimalaria regimen still needs the approval of European regulators and the World Health Organization before it's available for wide distribution in malaria endemic countries, probably in slightly more than a year.
Investigators now want to test the new combination in children who are malnourished or who have anemia.
The results of the study on the new, once-a-day antimalarial drug therapy are published this week in the journal The Lancet.