A renowned scientist at Purdue University has received a $1.38 million grant to continue research involving a drug therapy used to fight drug-resistant strains of malaria in developing countries.
San Francisco-based Open Philanthropy awarded the grant to Dr. Philip Low, who is conducting clinical trials to validate previous results of the drug imatinib and test whether the number of days the treatment needs to take effect can be reduced.
Low is Purdue’s Presidential Scholar for Drug Discovery and the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in the university’s College of Science.
Imatinib is typically used to fight cancer, and Low discovered that the drug, when combined with the standard malaria treatment, clears all malaria parasites from 90% of patients within 48 hours and 100% of patients within three days.
The discovery was made during Phase 2 trials conducted in Vietnam, where the drug-resistant strains of malaria are common. But Purdue says experts are also concerned that those strains might travel to Africa.
The Open Philanthropy award was given in two phases. The first is a $600,000 award for Low to conduct a larger clinical trial in southeast Asia to validate his previous trials.
The second is a $780,000 award that will be used to determine if the three-day therapy can be reduced to two or even one day; that study will be conducted in Kenya and Tanzania, where malaria is prominent.
“We found that people in Africa must often walk many miles to obtain treatment for malaria. They will receive three pills, walk all the way home, take one or two pills, start to feel better, and then save the third pill for their next malaria infection,” Low said in a news release. “When they don’t finish the course of treatment, only the most drug-resistant strains of the parasite survive and spread. And that’s how people build up drug resistance. So we’d like to eventually be able to cure all patients with just one pill. It would prevent these drug-resistant strains from ever proliferating.”
Imatinib was originally produced by Novartis, which acquired one of Low’s spinoff companies, Endocyte, in 2018 for $2 billion.
In a January interview with Inside INdiana Business Reporter Kylie Veleta, Low said he plans to give his malaria discovery away for free, most likely to a major pharmaceutical company. In return, he will require the company to commit to “making it available to everybody” in regions battling malaria, mostly developing countries.
Low eventually aims to submit the therapy for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If that happens, it would be the fifth FDA approval for Low during his storied career.