Malaria Center Looks Toward Testing of New Malaria Drugs

Oct 18, 2001

By Brian Calvert
The Cambodia Daily
 

Medical staff from the National Malaria Center today will visit facilities in Snuol district, Kratie province, as part of an ongoing program with the European Commission to investigate new drug therapies to combat the deadly parasite. 

The staff will be accompanying EC malaria expert Dr Sean Hewitt and Tim Davis, an independent malaria consultant, to see if the facilities in Snuol are capable of storing blood for advanced tests later in Phnom Penh. 

Davis, a professor at the University of Western Australia, has a background in tropical medicine research and spent four years studying with an Oxford University research unit in Thailand. 

Davis arrived in Cambodia Wednesday and will spend one week here, inspecting facilities and also advising provincial health officials on the current updates in malaria treatment around the world. 

The National Malaria Center is involved in an ongoing program to test the effectiveness of combination drugs, which are more effective against drug-resistant malaria parasites than single-drug therapies, Hewitt said. 

Malaria experts are now testing the drug Artekan 2, which is produced in China, for effectiveness in Cambodia. 

Artekan 2 could be more effective than the current combination therapies available for two reasons, Hewitt said. 

First, during testing in other countries there have been few  side effects such as nausea, he said. Second, the dosage is only for two days, which increases the odds of patients sticking with the drug for its full dosage. 

The current preferred therapy is a combination of Artesunate and Mefloquine, which is a three-day course of treatment. Cambodian officials pioneered use of that combination as one of the 'first-line' treatments against one of the country's top killers. 

Some patients, however, stop taking medication after the first or second day when they start to feel better. That, in turn, strengthens the malaria parasite against the same drugs in the future. 

Davis said he and other researchers are constantly working to find drugs that are affordable, effective in treatment and tolerable to patients. 

The drugs used in Artekan 2 have been shown to be effective in other countries. It has been tested with positive results in Vietnam. 

Hewitt said the testing in Vietnam was difficult because the concentration of malaria patients was relatively low. The Cambodia study is augmenting the one done in Vietnam. 

The Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh is providing the labs and technical assistance to the National Malaria Center. The EC provides some funding and technical assistance for field work, during which blood is drawn from patients and stored.

Patients in which malaria recurs are tested at the lab. Their blood is analyzed to discover whether the malaria parasites were developing resistance to certain drugs, or whether the person had been bitten again by a different malaria-carrying mosquito. 

The advanced tests on Artekan 2 could lead to a change in the way malaria is fought, Hewitt said.