Finding new drugs for malaria

New drugs may be on the way for malaria, a disease that helps push millions of people into extreme poverty, thanks to an Australian team working with a remarkable new Japanese organisation.


The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT) is investing over one hundred million dollars (US) in creating new products to improve global health. High on their priorities is malaria, and they’ve turned to a team at Queensland’s Griffith University to help them find new drugs to fight it.

Established in 2012, the GHIT Fund is a public health partnership that brings Japanese know-how and investment to the global fight against infectious diseases. Its partners include the Japanese government, the Gates Foundation, and six Japanese pharma companies. And for malaria, those partners have sought help from Australia.

Vicky Avery and her Griffith University colleagues have been working since 2007 with the Medicines for Malaria Venture and Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative.

In 2013, with the support of the GHIT Fund, Vicky’s team screened 50,000 compounds from Japanese pharma company Daiichi Sankyo. The project identified several ‘hit’ series able to inhibit the malaria parasite growth.

So in May 2015, GHIT announced further support that will allow her team to work with the Japanese, developing their promising hits into lead compounds that might disrupt the malaria parasite’s life cycle, eventually leading to testing in humans as potential drugs.

“Most of the current drugs affect the malaria parasite during the asexual stages when it’s growing rapidly in blood cells and causing the clinical symptoms,” says Vicky. “Our objective was to see if we could also break the life cycle by finding compounds which could prevent male and female gametocyte development. These are required for transmisson to a mosquito when it bites you. If we are ever going to totally eradicate malaria we’ll need to break this transmission cycle.”

Malaria continues to be a global health challenge according to the World Health Organisation, with about 219 million people being infected and about 660,000 people dying from malaria each year.

We learn so much from our partnerships with Japanese companies. It challenges our thinking. There are cultural differences, various managerial styles, and alternative approaches to drug discovery.

Professor Vicky M Avery, Griffith University

Japan’s leadership in technological innovation, drug development, and overseas aid makes the country’s post-war daily battle against disease epidemics, malnutrition, and poverty feel like very long ago.

Chair of GHIT, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, MD 

Banner image: Vicky Avery and her team have screened millions of compounds for use against malaria. Credit: Luis Harwood

Other medical research collaborations between Australia and Japan include:

Better diagnosis of foetal heart defects

One in one hundred babies is born with a heart defect. University of Melbourne researchers are working with Tohoku University and Atom Medical Co Tokyo on a non-invasive way to recognise problems earlier. And a University of Tasmania researcher is working to improve the use of echocardiography in partnership with Gunma University in Japan.

Seeing every cell in a whole adult brain

Scientists from RIKEN, the University of Tokyo, Japan Science and Technology Agency, and the Queensland University of Technology have developed CUBIC—a technique for rapidly imaging the brain. They believe it will be scalable to whole bodies.

Biomedical applications for ‘magic crystals’

CSIRO and Osaka Prefecture University are developing biomedical applications for the massively absorbent metal–organic framework crystals developed by CSIRO.

Further reading

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