Monash University is collaborating on the development of a potential new drug to cure malaria throughout the world.

An international team of Monash and international researchers has been awarded the coveted Medicines for Malaria Vaccine (MMV) Project of the Year award in recognition of their outstanding progress in rapidly developing a new anti-malarial drug candidate for clinical testing.

Tanzanian President Kikwete presented the award on 1 June at the opening of the MMV's annual stakeholder conference in Tanzania. It is the fourth time in ten years that Monash researchers have received the accolade for their collaborative drug discovery research.

Professor Susan Charman, Director of the Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said the international team has spent five years studying an enzyme known as dihydroorotate dehydrogenase (DHODH).

"Malaria parasites are completely dependant on the DHODH enzyme for their survival. We have been developing inhibitors that target the DHODH enzyme, which will stop the malaria parasite in its tracks," Professor Charman said.

"This work is hugely significant when you consider that malaria, which is a mosquito-born disease, kills up to one million people each year worldwide, while an estimated 500 million are suffering its debilitating effects."

"For good reason, DHODH has been described as one of the hottest malaria drug targets under investigation."

"What is really exciting is that due to biological differences in DHODH between humans and malaria parasites, we are confident that our new DHODH targeted medicines will not have adverse consequences for people."

"This project has seen high levels of continued cooperation as researchers from around the world joined together their expertise in pursuit of an important common goal."

"There is still much to be done but the final goal of a medicine that can be delivered as a once-a-day dose is well within sight. We are certainly hopeful that a DHODH inhibitor could be saving lives and curing malaria within five to six years."

Monash researchers collaborated on this project with experts from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, where the overall project was led by Professor Meg Phillips, The University of Washington, and GSK Tres Cantos in Spain. The project was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health in the USA.

Craig Scutt
Monash University

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