McRobert and colleagues have published promising findings in PLoS Biology on enzymes needed for malaria parasites to produce gametocytes. They explain that, â€œOur data predict that in addition to targeting asexual erythrocytic stages, a drug inhibiting Plasmodium PKG could also block parasite transmission to the mosquito, a highly desirable property that would help limit the spread of any drug-resistant parasites. Transmission-blocking drugs would be a powerful tool for reducing the malaria burden in areas endemic for P. falciparum.â€
David Baker, a co-author, noted in a press release from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that, “The enzyme we have discovered, a protein kinasea, is essential for the development of malaria parasite gametes. Working with genetically modified parasites, in combination with inhibitors of this enzyme, we have demonstrated that it is feasible to block the sexual stage of the life cycle of the malaria parasite. This has exciting implications in terms of improving how we go about tackling malaria. If a drug can be developed that targets this stage of the life cycle, and combined with a curative drug, it would be an important new approach for controlling malaria transmission and the spread of drug resistance.
A 2-in-1 drug that not only treats the disease but prevents transmission would be a most valuable addition to the malaria arsenal. And while the time from drug discovery to a drug on the market may take years, it is important to keep the research pipeline flowing in order to keep ahead of drug resistance. For example, researchers are looking far and wide, and Prudhomme et al. suggest that a “source of marine natural products (may be) marine microorganisms.” Simultaneously it is also important to evaluate continually possible resistance of malaria parasites to existing drugs.
We cannot afford to rest on the laurels of ACTs or sit back in hopes of the perfect vaccine. Research funding for all aspects of malaria control must be boosted.