A new anti-malarial drug can get the parasite out of hiding with a single pill

Known as tafenoxine, a new drug was developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). After receiving FDA approval, a drug must also pass the control of other national drug regulatory agencies before it can see global use.

Plasmodium vivax.
A colored micrograph shows the mature trophozoite Plasmodium vivax (purple spot in the middle).
Credit for CDC / Steven Glenn paintings, Laboratory and Consultations.

The compound is adapted to fight the recurrent form of malaria. This disease, caused by a parasite Plasmodium vivax and is estimated to infect over 8 million people each year, it is particularly inconvenient to cure because the parasite can hide in the host’s liver and appear many times over the years.

Persistent malaria

A recurrent form of the disease is a recurrent type of malaria that is most commonly encountered outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Children are particularly affected by the disease. One mosquito bite infected with malaria will cause several attacks of the disease, which means a lot of missed schools and progressively poorer healthng formative years.

Worse, infected individuals act as involuntary spreaders of the disease. If the parasite wakes up again and enters their bloodstream, any mosquito that bites them will spread malaria to other people. This combination of dormancy and high infectivity makes recurrent malaria particularly difficult to eliminate.

However, with the recent FDA approval of tafenoxine, that condition may change. The drug can expel the parasite from its dormant state in the liver, preventing it from re-infecting the host. Even better, tafenoxine does not interfere with other drugs used to treat the immediate infection caused by the parasite, so both treatments can be taken in parallel.

We already have a drug at hand to remove plasmodium from the liver – called primaquine. However, primaquine treatment should be followed for 14 days at a time, while the course of tafenoxine includes only one dose.

There is a legitimate concern in the medical community that many patients with recurrent malaria feel better after a few days of treatment with primaquine and do not follow the course until its completion – which is not nearly enough to eliminate all parasites.

Although the FDA approves the drug for its effectiveness, management warns that the drug comes with side effects that you should be aware of.

First and foremost, people suffering from G6PD enzyme deficiency should not take the drug as it can cause severe anemia. The FDA recommends that patients be examined for this deficiency before treatment – but this can be almost impossible in the they are pooreras wmalaria is most common here. Second, there are concerns that higher doses may affect pre-existing psychiatric conditions.

Despite the potential risks, the drug could help reduce the incidence Plasmodium vivax malaria globally, however.

“Krintafel’s approval [the brand name for tafenoquine], the first new treatment for Plasmodium vivax malaria in more than 60 years, is a significant milestone for people living with this type of malaria recurrence, ”says Dr. Hal Barron, President of Research and Development at GSK. “Together with our partner, Malaria Drugs, we believe that Krintafel will be an important drug for malaria patients and contribute to continued efforts to eradicate this disease.”

The next step will be to regulate drugs in countries where this form of malaria is a significant problem.