On 25 April, we observe World Malaria Day. The annual initiative was instituted by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States during the World Health Assembly in 2007 and aims to bring global attention to the efforts being made to bring an end to malaria. It also serves as an occasion to encourage action to reduce suffering and death from the disease 

“Accelerating the fight against malaria for a more equitable world” is this year’s theme, which aligns particularly well with the malaria drug discovery research we support here at the H3D Foundation. We are passionate about building capacity among African researchers to solve uniquely African healthcare challenges. 

“Africa, particularly poor and vulnerable populations, bears almost the entire burden of malaria, accounting for 94% of global malaria cases in 2022 and 95% of global malaria deaths,” says Dr Candice Soares de Melo, H3D Chief Investigator. 

“Antimalarial drug research and development is of importance to prevent and treat the >220 million cases that arise each year that have consequences for both the health and socioeconomic development of the continent.”

Malaria research for Africans by Africans

Historically, pharmaceutical research and development has occurred mostly in affluent countries with concentrations of infrastructure, technology, scientists and clinicians. Despite Africa’s disproportionate burden of disease, discoveries made and solutions proffered in these environments are not always fit for purpose on the continent. 

“It is important for African-based scientists to take a leading role in malaria drug discovery, making new medicines that are optimal for use in Africa,” says Soares de Melo. “African data aligned with African patients must be incorporated into drug discovery and development campaigns.”

Malaria research at H3D

While we may face formidable challenges, strong progress has been made to bring malaria research home, as illustrated by H3D’s world-class scientific output in recent years.

“H3D is the pioneer of malaria drug discovery research in Africa by discovering the first two clinical candidates to be discovered by an African research group,” says Dr Sauvik Samanta, an Investigator at H3D. “It has given confidence to the entire continent that drug discovery research can be done in Africa, for Africa (as well as in other regions of the world).”

H3D is also part of the Malaria Drug Accelerator (MalDA), a consortium of 18 different laboratories who have individually developed and maintained many of the platforms that contribute to early stage antimalarial drug development including target discovery and validation.

Dr Devasha Redhi, H3D Junior Research Fellow, says that the interdisciplinary nature of the H3D research teams provides a fertile environment for knowledge transfer and capacity building, which is crucial in ensuring longevity of malaria research on the continent.  

“It is exciting to work at H3D because we are the only integrated drug discovery hub in Africa,” adds Dr Jason Hlozek, H3D postdoctoral fellow. “This means that we are a highly diverse team of African scientists that get to apply our scientific skills while constantly learning from each other in pursuit of a common goal.”

Combating drug-resistant malaria

One of the major challenges facing researchers is the parasite’s ability to develop resistance against existing treatments. 

“It has a particularly complex life cycle and continuously develops resistance against new treatments,” says Hlozek. “Drug discovery efforts are important because they allow us to research new treatments to take the place of older treatments that become less effective as resistance develops.”

Malaria in numbers

  • 608 000 malaria deaths in 2022
  • 245 million new cases of malaria in 2022
  • 94% of all malaria cases are in the WHO African Region
  • 80% of all malaria deaths in the region occurred among children under the age of five

 

Featured image: Rawpixel