Researchers use crowdsourcing to find new malaria drugs

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PHARMACEUTICAL researchers looking for alternatives for the medicine artemisinin commonly used to treat malaria have turned to crowdsourcing to discovery new compounds that might be effective, Australia’s University of Sydney reported in a press release.

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Artemisinin, which was developed in China in the 1970s, is considered the “gold standard” for antimalarial treatments, according to Associate Professor Matthew Todd from the University of Sydney. Researchers are trying to find alternatives, however, because the disease has become resistant to artemisinin and its partner drugs in some parts of the world, Todd added, and no effective replacements have been developed yet.

Todd explained that there is lack of commercial incentive for industry to develop drugs for neglected diseases, and academic researchers often lack resources to move promising developments they discover from the lab to the commercial testing and production phase, and so there is a need for new approaches to drug discovery.

The university along with the non-profit group Medicines for Malaria Venture, tested an open-source research mechanism wherein anyone could participate and no patents were sought. During the project’s run, more than 50 researchers from 21 organizations around the world shared their data and ideas in real time, which started with a large set of potential drug molecules made public by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

From that information-sharing activity, two possible chemical combinations were found that could lead to effective medicines against malaria. Todd explained that researchers could now do further study on the chemical compounds in an effort to improve their effects, and make them more practical to manufacture on a large scale.

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