A team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Massachusetts, have just announced progress on a new malaria treatment. This is a pill that remains in the stomach to release its medicine over a two week period. Now, the pill has a plastic shell that springs open into a star-shaped form that holds the drug, which is scheduled to release into the system through measured, timely doses. The “plastic” is a polymer material designed to primarily resist the hostile environment of the stomach but then dissolves after two weeks, making its way harmlessly through the digestive system.
The research actually began after the team made observations about the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin. The drug was in experimentation as a potential treatment for river blindness in Africa, where malaria is, of course, endemic.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital research associate Giovanni Traverso notes, “What was observed was that malaria would transiently drop. And so what we proposed was, ‘What if we could increase the period of time during which individuals could have ivermectin in their system, really to help suppress the mosquito population in those regions?’”
The Ivermectin drug kills the mosquitoes that carry that parasite that causes malaria. And since 90 percent of malaria cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa, this drug could be a game-changer. Now scientist speculate that the capsule could, perhaps, be paired with another drug—like artemisinin—to continue to push down the frequency and abundance of malaria cases.
The World Health Organization says that only about 50 percent of people through the West and 30 percent of those who live in developing countries actually take their daily medicine, as prescribed by their doctor. Data suggests that this capsule could improve dosage adherence to more than 70 percent. After all, it is not always easy or convenient to take medicine every day and sometimes symptoms for chronic disease are mild (so people overlook their medicine).
But, MIT researcher Andrew Bellinger says, “You can take advantage of the fact that patients don’t have to be reminded every day that they need to take their medicine. They can remember once a week to take their medicine, and then live normal lives the rest of the time.”