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Queensland researchers on the hunt for effective malaria drugs

Researchers at Q-Pharm and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) will begin clinical trials to test the efficacy of current and potential antimalarial drugs using human volunteers.

New ways are urgently needed to test emerging drugs and vaccines that have the potential to treat malaria, a disease responsible for up to a million deaths per year.

“Our first step is to develop a method to test if future drugs will be effective against malaria, by comparing two drugs already known to be effective,” said lead physician and QIMR researcher Professor James McCarthy.

The first stage of the research will involve 16 healthy male volunteers. They will receive an injection containing a very low dose of malaria parasites (Plasmodium falciparum).

“The injection will contain around 1,800 parasite-infected red blood cells from a controlled sample we have developed. This is a very low dose that we and others have used in four earlier human studies with no serious consequences. In comparison, a single bite from a malaria-infected mosquito will deliver 20 times more (approximately 30,000) parasites into the blood,” explained Professor McCarthy.

“After five days, volunteers will be treated with one of two commercially available antimalarial drugs. We will study the effectiveness of these known treatments by observing the growth and destruction of malaria parasites before and after treatment.”

“As we can detect the presence of malaria parasites in the blood at very low levels − levels well below those that make people sick − we can carry out this trial without endangering the health of the human volunteers.”

“The purpose of this study is to test the effectiveness of the actual method of observing the parasites in the blood following treatment. Once we have perfected this method, we hope to start testing new drugs which may prove to be effective against malaria.”

This study is being conducted at Q-Pharm Pty Limited. It has been approved by QIMR’s Human Research Ethics Committee and is being sponsored by the Medicines for Malaria Venture, a Geneva-based public-private partnership dedicated solely to the discovery, development and delivery of new malaria medicines (

Anyone interested in volunteering for the study can contact Q-Pharm on 1300 QPHARM (1300 774 276). Volunteers will be reimbursed for their time and closely monitored throughout the treatment.