Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

ACS: In my opinion, the drug is ready

Like Catherine, I’m a bit behind on scientific posts – so here’s a quick recap of some of the talks I attended earlier in the week.

My Sunday morning started with an excellent session on malaria/anti-malarials – Solomon Nwaka from the World Health Organization’s Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases ‘kicked off’ the session with a broad overview that really drove home why malaria is (still) such an important disease: every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria, and the disease is responsible for more that one million deaths each year. Anti-malarial drug resistance is a huge problem (and there aren’t that many new drug candidates in the pipeline), so the session focused on several academic scientists who are searching for new drug candidates. This is often done as a collaboration with Medicines for Malaria Venture, a non-profit organization created to “discover, develop and deliver new antimalarial drugs through public-private partnerships.” (For more information on public-private partnerships, click here and here).

I was only able to stay for the first half of the session, but I heard Jonathan Vennerstrom talk about synthetic peroxide anti-malarials (including this simplified analog of artemisinin) and Paul O’Neill talk about analogs of amodiaquine that were active against drug-resistant strains of malaria (click here for a recent review on 4-aminoquinoline anti-malarials).

The debate about whether or not academic scientists should try to get involved in drug discovery can get quite heated (see Derek Lowe’s take on it here; you might also be interested in this NRDD ‘Outlook’). Though I understand why some scientists think that academics should avoid this area of research, many pharmaceutical companies aren’t willing (or able) to pursue a drug discovery program that focuses on malaria or other important, yet neglected, infectious diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries. (NITD and GSK are important exceptions to this general rule…)

So my question is if many pharmaceutical companies aren’t willing/able to tackle these problems, why shouldn’t academic groups give it a try?


Joshua Finkelstein (Senior Editor, Nature)


  1. Report this comment

    Jean-Claude Bradley said:

    The scale of the problem and the limited potential for a lucrative market makes malaria a natural choice for Open Science initiatives. That is why it has been our primary project on UsefulChem, our Open Notebook Science project (talk at the Spring ACS meeting available here).

    As a synthetic organic chemistry lab, we have been able to find collaborators who are willing to work openly and provide docking results (e.g. Rajarshi Guha) and testing (e.g. Phil Rosenthal). By providing the results of research in progress this work is open to contributions from others who can hopefully accelerate the drug discovery process.