BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

January 22, 2019

Research Roundup: Single-dose drug for recurrent malaria, long-acting contraceptive self-administered via microneedles, and fast diagnosis of viruses

Ansley Kahn
Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Mike Wang

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According to clinical trial results recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tafenoquine—a new single-dose oral antimalarial drug developed by Medicines for Malaria Venture and GlaxoSmithKline—significantly lowered the risk of the recurrence of malaria caused by the Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax) species of the parasite. P. vivax malaria affects approximately 7.5 million people annually and often lies dormant in the liver even after initial treatment, causing debilitating recurring malaria episodes. This single-dose treatment could significantly boost cure rates, as adherence to the standard two-week drug course is difficult in low-resource regions in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and parts of North Africa where this form of malaria is endemic. Based on the results of this clinical trial, the US Food and Drug Administration has already approved tafenoquine for use in July 2018, followed by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration in September 2018.

A new, long-acting contraceptive designed to be self-administered by women using microneedle skin patch technology could provide a valuable new family planning option, particularly for women in low-resource settings where access to healthcare can be limited. When the patch is applied to the skin, microscopic needles break off and remain under the surface of the skin where biodegradable polymers slowly release the contraceptive drug, levonorgestrel. In animal testing, an experimental microneedle patch provided a therapeutic level of contraceptive hormone for more than a month with a single application. Experimental patches designed for humans have been developed but not yet tested. If the microneedle contraceptive patch does eventually reach the market, it could become the first self-administered, long-acting contraceptive that does not require a conventional needle injection.

A new rapid DNA and RNA sequencing device could offer potential to instantly diagnose viruses such as Ebola or Zika at the point of care during an outbreak. Researchers at the French agricultural research institute CIRAD have found a way to use a device known as the Oxford Nanopore MinION device, which can sequence DNA and RNA in real time, to identify plant viruses—and potentially animal and human viruses too. The CIRAD team was able to test and validate the use of this portable device to identify plant viruses quickly and early in the infection process—avoiding the time-consuming and potentially dangerous task of transferring contaminated samples to a lab. The device’s ability to rapidly and accurately detect a virus in plants is a step forward in providing real-time detection of viruses with a mobile device, which would be especially useful in low-resource settings and remote areas. This device has the potential to help public health officials manage outbreaks by reducing the time between taking a sample and diagnosing it as carrying a particular virus—enabling the detection of potential outbreaks at an earlier stage than was previously possible.

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