Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Drug to combat growing malaria menace
Malaria is spread by mosquitoes
A cheap drug that can be taken orally may provide an effective new way to treat malaria - a disease which is becoming resistant to current medications.
A new treatment is urgently needed for a disease which is one of the leading causes of sickness in the tropics, responsible for up to 2.7 million deaths per year.
There is also concern that because of global warming malaria will spread to temperate climates, including the UK.
Nearly all fatal cases are caused by a parasite called Plasmodium falciparum.
The organism is rapidly becoming resistant to conventional antimalarial drugs such as chloroquine.
A team of German scientists report in the journal Science that they have indentified an enzyme in the parasite that plays a key role in the manufacture of substances linked to the development of malaria symptoms.
They showed that two drugs, fosmidomycin and FR-900089, were able to shut down the activity of the enzyme in mice infected with the rodent version of the parasite.
Mice treated with the drugs over a perid of eight days were totally cured.
Growth of a multidrug-resistant form of the human parasite was also blocked by the drugs under laboratory conditions.
The authors write: "The efficacy of these drugs against multidrug-resistant parasites and their low manufacturing costs and high stability make them very attractive as a potential new class of antimalarial drugs."
Fosmidomycin is already being used to treat bacterial infections in humans and is known to be safe.
However, one drawback is that to cure the mice, the drug had to be administered three times a day for a week, so it may be that a stronger drug is needed to be effective in humans.
The researchers hope to begin clinical trials in the next few months and a treatment could be available within three years.