Novartis’ KAE609 shows promise as next generation treatment for malaria

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Novartis’ KAE609 (cipargamin), a novel and potent antimalarial drug candidate, cleared the parasite rapidly in Plasmodium falciparum (P falciparum)and Plasmodium vivax (P vivax) in malaria patients[1]. The clinical trial result was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Novartis currently has two drug candidates in development. Both KAE609 and KAF156 are new classes of anti-malarial compounds that treat malaria in different ways from current therapies, important to combat emerging drug resistance. Novartis has also identified PI4K as a new drug target with potential to prevent, block and treat malaria.

“Novartis is in the fight against malaria for the long term and we are committed to the continued research and development of new therapies to eventually eliminate the disease,” said Joseph Jimenez, Chief Executive Officer, Novartis. “With two compounds and a new drug target currently under investigation, Novartis has one of the strongest malaria pipelines in the industry.”

Malaria is a life-threatening disease primarily caused by parasites (P. falciparum and P. vivax) transmitted to people through the bites of infected anopheles mosquitoes. Each year it kills more than 600,000 people, most of them African children[2].

“KAE609 is a potential game-changing therapy in the fight against malaria,” said Thierry Diagana, Head, Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD), which aims to discover novel treatments and prevention methods for major tropical diseases. “Novartis has given KAE609 priority project status because of its unique potential of administering it as a single-dose combination therapy.”

In June 2012, 21 patients infected by one of the two main malaria-causing parasite types took part in a proof-of-concept clinical study conducted in Bangkok and Mae Sot near the Thailand/Burma border where resistance to current therapies had been reported. Researchers saw rapid parasite clearance in adult patients (median of 12 hours)[2] with uncomplicated P. vivax or P. falciparum malaria infection including those with resistant parasites. No safety concerns were identified, however the study was too small for any safety conclusions.

“The growing menace of artemisinin resistance threatens our current antimalarial treatments, and therefore our attempts to control and eliminate falciparum malaria,” said Nick White, Professor of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Thailand and lead author of the NEJM article. “This is why we are so enthusiastic about KAE609; it is the first new antimalarial drug candidate with a completely novel mechanism of action to reach phase II clinical development in over 20 years.”

KAE609, the first compound in the spiroindolone class of treatment, works through a novel mechanism of action that involves inhibition of a P-type cation-transporter ATPase4 (PfATP4), which regulates sodium concentration in the parasite. Because KAE609 also appears to be effective against the sexual forms of the parasite, it could potentially help prevent disease transmission. The clinical trial was done in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University – Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme. Research was supported by the Wellcome Trust, Singapore Economic Development Board, and Medicines for Malaria Venture.

KAE609 represents one of two new classes of antimalarial compounds that Novartis has discovered and published in the last four years.[3],[4] This drug candidate has shown potent in vitro activity against a broad range of parasites that have developed drug resistance against current therapies. KAE609 is currently being planned for phase IIb trials.

1. full/10.1056/NEJMoa1315860
2. World Health Organization, 
3. Spiroindolones, a Potent Compound Class for the Treatment of Malaria, KAE609, Science, Sept. 2010
4. Imaging of Plasmodium liver stages to drive next generation antimalarial drug discovery. Science Express, Nov. 17, 2011

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