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The first new malaria drug to be licensed in the United States in 60 years has been hailed as a major breakthrough by scientists.
Tafenoquine, which has been developed by GSK, works by curbing the recurring form of malaria caused by the plasmodium vivax parasite, which remains dormant in the liver for years and can recur several times in a sufferer's lifetime. Around 8.5 million people become re-infected each year by the disease, the most common form of malaria outside sub-Saharan Africa.
Although tafenoquine has been around since the 1970s, it is only now that it has been enhanced in a way that enables it to flush the parasite out of the liver, something other drugs have hitherto been unable to do. This means the infection can no longer occur. It can be taken alongside other medication to treat the immediate malarial infection.
It is not the only drug that can flush out the parasite, but it can do it in one dose, unlike primaquine, which has to be taken for 14 days in succession.
Following the decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), other medical licensing authorities around the world will now examine the case for licensing the drug.
Professor Ric Price, of Oxford University, told the BBC: "The ability to get rid of the parasite in the liver with a single dose of tafenoquine is a phenomenal achievement and in my mind it represents one of the most significant advances in malaria treatment in the last 60 years."
President of research and development at GSK Dr Hal Barron said the drug, marketed under the name Krintafel, "will be an important medicine for patients with malaria and contribute to the ongoing effort to eradicate this disease".
However, tafenoquine does come with some significant side effects. It can cause those with a G6PD deficiency enzyme problem to suffer severe anaemia, which has prompted the FDA to advise that people are tested for the condition before being prescribed the drug.
High doses are also not recommended for those with a psychiatric illness.
Written by James Puckle
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