The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a drug to treat malaria. It’s the first drug approved for the disease in 60 years. BBC reports that tafenoquine is intended for the treatment of recurring malaria which affects 8.5 million people a year, making it the most common form of malaria outside Sub-Saharan Africa. Children are especially vulnerable. Scientists are describing it as a “phenomenal achievement.”
The one-dose treatment also makes tafenoquine simpler to use and more likely to be successful than the current two-week course of the drug primaquine that patients often do not complete, leaving the disease in their system. Mosquitoes transport the parasite plasmodium vivax that causes malaria and infect humans when they bite. Drugs exist that cure the initial infection, but the parasite can make its way to the liver where it can remain dormant for months or years before triggering a relapse. Once it comes out of dormancy, the revived parasite can be carried to another victim, making preventing the spread of the disease even more challenging. Currently, a second drug is used to stop relapses, but tafenoquine flushes the parasite from the liver, preventing relapse and the spreading of the disease. It can be taken along with another drug that treats the existing infection.
Professor Ric Price commented on the significance of the new drug, saying, “The ability to get rid of the parasite in the liver with a single dose of tafenoquine is a phenomenal achievement and in my mind it represents one of the most significant advances in malaria treatment in the last 60 years.”
ABC News explains that the new drug from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been given the brand name Krintafel. Tests performed with the drug showed that it prevented relapses in about 75 percent of patients over the age of six months, about as effective as the current two-week treatment. It’s been approved for use on patients ages 16 and older. The pharmaceutical company plans to apply for approval in Brazil soon followed by other countries where recurring malaria is common. They will sell them at a low cost in poor countries. They also continue to work on a vaccine but haven’t found an effective formula yet. The best prevention at this point is insecticides and bed nets. Dr. Hal Barron, president of research and development at GSK described the company’s hopes for Krintafel and the future.
“The approval of Krintafel, the first new treatment for Plasmodium vivax malaria in over 60 years, is a significant milestone for people living with this type of relapsing malaria. Together with our partner, Medicines for Malaria Venture, we believe Krintafel will be an important medicine for patients with malaria and contribute to the ongoing effort to eradicate this disease.”
GSK partnered with Medicines for Malaria to repurpose tafenoquine for ridding the liver of malaria parasites.