The grant will support a multinational consortium led by Elizabeth A. Winzeler, a professor in the pediatric division of host-microbe systems and therapeutics at the UCSD School of Medicine, working to accelerate anti-malarial drug development. It builds on a four-year, $3.5 million grant awarded by the Gates Foundation in 2012 to support the development of new antimalarial compounds less likely to promote resistance than existing drugs. The latest grant will advance and broaden the scope of work of the consortium — which initially included the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Columbia University, GlaxoSmith Kline, and Washington University in St. Louis — with new research partners, including Pennsylvania State University and the UK_based Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
To date, Winzeler and her colleagues have focused their efforts on disease-causing Plasmodium parasites that infect Anopheles mosquitoes, whose bites transmit the parasite to humans. Most currently available drugs are effective only at certain stages of parasite development, allowing infections to recur, while the only licensed antimalarial drug that eliminates the possibility of relapse can have life-threatening side effects. The parasites also tend to quickly develop resistance to the drug. To address these challenges, the consortium is working to identify "drug-able" proteins encoded by the parasite's genome using in vitro evolution and whole genome sequencing.
"The very long-term goals," said Winzeler, "are to accelerate the development of novel treatments and preventative medicines that can be used to assist with malaria eradication and elimination, and which can serve as replacements for current drugs that are losing efficacy."