Merck KGaA hustling a promising anti-malaria drug into human studies

Scientists in Scotland have been grabbing headlines with news that their preclinical research into an experimental single-dose antimalaria compound has shown real promise, spurring Merck KGaA to pick up the development and commercialization rights.

Reporting in Nature, investigators at the University of Dundee working in tandem with Medicines for Malaria Venture say they achieved some remarkable evidence of success in fighting malaria using human blood and mouse models in the lab.

Professor Ian Gilbert, who heads up chemistry at the drug discovery unit that discovered the compound, says that this new study in Nature "reveals that DDD107498 has the potential to treat malaria with a single dose, prevent the spread of malaria from infected people, and protect a person from developing the disease in the first place."

Preclinical evidence of success rarely translates into a new therapy for human use. But finding new malaria drugs has become a key priority for health officials as they grapple with growing signs of drug resistance in Asia. And the scientists have been encouraged that the way this drug works--targeting the proteinmaking machinery used by the parasite--could help keep it effective without spurring resistance.

The plan now is for the German Merck to hustle this new drug into human studies as quickly as possible. The company has gone more than 10 years without advancing a major new therapy in the clinic. But a recent deal with Pfizer ($PFE) in immuno-oncology has revived hopes that a new team in charge of Merck Serono may finally execute a turnaround at the troubled development company.

- here's the study in Nature
- read the press release