Hybrid drug could be new cure for malaria

Portland State chemistry professor David Peyton has been granted $624,455 by the National Institute of Health to fund research for a new drug treatment for malaria.

Portland State chemistry professor David Peyton has been granted $624,455 by the National Institute of Health to fund research for a new drug treatment for malaria. Peyton’s research involves altering an existing malaria drug to inhibit the disease’s resistance mechanism. Specifically, this grant will focus on the safety of the drug for future patients and its ability to cure the disease.

According to the World Health Organization’s website, malaria is a preventable and curable disease that is transmitted to humans through bites from infected mosquitoes. The parasite infects red blood cells and eventually disturbs blood flow to vital organs. The majority of cases are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, where it accounts for 20 percent of all childhood deaths.

However, malaria is still a global health threat. There are over 100 countries with malaria; in 2008 alone there were 247 million reported cases. But the real danger of malaria is its growing resistance to conventional medications, according to Peyton.

“The evolution of the malaria parasite is so rapid that soon after it is exposed to drugs, it develops a strong resistance,” he said.

Working out of a lab in Science Building 1, Peyton said he has not created an entirely new malaria treatment. Instead, he has taken a previously successful malaria drug and bonded to it a molecule that blocks the disease’s ability to form a resistance to the medication.

The new “hybrid drug” harnesses the curative power of old treatments and protects its potency by inhibiting future resistance, Peyton said. The drug would not only reverse the effects of the disease and cure the patient, but it would also ensure that the parasite’s mutations could not render the drug ineffectual.

According to Peyton, a common misconception is the idea that this treatment is a vaccine. As of today, the drug only exists in crystalline form, but eventually it will become a pill.

Peyton is also co-founder of DesignMedix, a Portland start-up company whose main focus is treating infectious disease with hybrid drugs. The company was started in 2006 and is currently housed in Science Building 1, awaiting transfer to a new southwest Portland location.

According to Peyton, DesignMedix acts as a second stream of income for research that doesn’t come cheap.

Though this grant is a large sum of money, it is only a fraction of the overall cost. Peyton said that creating an infectious disease drug, from its initial research to final product marketing, could cost around $200 million.

According to Peyton, this grant money is necessary to push the project forward to secure the next round of funding. A majority of the grant will be used to send the treatment to outside laboratory organizations for further testing.

Though Peyton’s research is far from complete, he hopes the hybrid drug treatment will be patient-ready in five to seven years. Peyton’s future plans involve making an application to the Food and Drug Administration to prepare for clinical trials.

Because the United States has very few cases of malaria, future clinical trials will most likely be done in Africa or southeast Asia. This moves him one step closer to connecting his treatment with the actual patients who need it.

“This project with reversed drugs is my best chance to do something significant with my career for the world,”

Peyton said.

PSU also stands to benefit, he said. Peyton’s success in contributing to a cure for malaria—a disease that kills two children every minute—would bring notoriety to the university. Peyton believes that its collaboration with DesignMedix also sets an important precedent, demonstrating that PSU is willing to cooperate with small local businesses.

According to Peyton, another benefit is the opportunity for graduate students to participate in research.  ?