In the past century, chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine were widely used to combat malaria, but the parasites eventually evolved resistance leading to the drugs' failure. Artemesinin drugs, derived from the herb Artemisia annua, are relatively new and the malaria parasite does not yet appear to have a resistance to it. They work by triggering chemical reactions which damage the Plasmodium parasite.
"We don't have anything in the pipeline after ACTs, and it's basically just a matter of time until drug resistance evolves and artemisinin also fails," Smith said. "So the question becomes how do we keep ACTs in our arsenal for as long as effectively possible?"
The researchers' models also show that cycling through single drugs accelerated the rate at which malaria parasites evolved drug resistance. Smith said this occurred because cycling a single drug degraded the parasite's average fitness, which made it easier for drug-resistant genes to spread throughout the parasite population.
The cycling models predicted a declining therapeutic value of a single drug within 3.54 years, versus a longer effective therapeutic value of 9.95 years when three drugs were used in equal proportions within a population. The research was funded in part by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.
"Using multiple first-line drugs reduces the selection pressure for resistance to a single drug," Smith said. "This is one way to make the ACTs last longer and benefit more people."
Co-author Laxminarayan, a senior research fellow at RFF, said ACTs are the best treatment option for malaria, now as well as in the foreseeable future.
"Novel treatment strategies impro
|Contact: DeLene Beeland|
University of Florida