Tafenoquine, sold under the brand name Krintafel, is a new drug designed to treat recurring malaria. The drug, manufactured by British pharmaceutical giant, GSK, was endorsed by the FDA this week. Whilst not a treatment for malaria in its entirety, the endorsement of Krinatfel is significant.

The drug is specifically designed to fight the recurring form of malaria, caused by the Plasmodium vivax parasite. This particular form makes over eight million people unwell per annum, a lot of whom are children. Recurring malaria is particularly lethal owing to its unique characteristics and behaviour; it can often remain dormant in the liver for many years before reappearing several years later.

We were one of the first websites to break the story through our news podcast, Malaria Minute. Listen back to the episode.

The United States Food and Drug Association, or FDA, has given official approval for tafenoquine and have publicized its use as a supplement to other medicines to treat an immediate infection.

Tafenoquine has been described as a “phenomenal achievement”, the drug works by removing the parasite from the liver, making it essentially non-existent and unable to transmit in the future. Thanks to the green light from the FDA, health officials around the world are now considering its recommendation for their respective countries.

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GSK Offices in Brentford, London

The drug will be most useful outside Sub-Saharan Africa, where Recurrent Malaria is the disease’s most common form. It is a particularly contagious and spontaneous form of malaria; people can effectively act as ‘malaria reservoirs’: the dormant malaria virus remains in their liver for years, and once reappeared, the parasite can easily be carried by mosquitoes to a healthy person. Globally, this poses an immense challenge and the strand’s elimination is a huge task. This is where tafenoquine steps in.

Whilst there is an existing medicine which flushes malarial parasites out of the liver called primaquine, it is administered across 14 days, which, in critical situations is not as effective and efficient as tafenoquine’s immediate single dose.

Whilst the feedback over the drug has been overwhelmingly positive, there have been some warnings put in place by the manufacturer, scientists and the FDA.

Many scientists are concerned that due to the drug’s strong and noticeable immediate effect, patients will feel better after a few days and cease to take the recommended doses. This would be lethal and would allow the parasite to reawaken at a later date.

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Whilst the FDA approves the drug, there are several side effects to be aware of, the most important being:
Those with G6PD deficiency, “should not take the drug as it may potentially cause severe anaemia” There are fears that, at higher doses, it may pose a problem to those with a psychiatric illness. Officials have therefore recommended people to get tested for this particular deficiency before taking the drug.

One particular website has been established to try and shine a light on some of the potential side effects of anti-malaria drugs, notably Tafenoquine and Mefloquine. You can visit the Quinism Foundation website here.

The drug has technically been in existence since the 1970’s, but through collaboration with Medicines For Malaria, GlaxoSmithKline have repurposed the drug and will be the manufacturers.

“Together with our partner, Medicines for Malaria Venture, we believe Krintafel will be an important medicine for patients with malaria and contribute to the ongoing effort to eradicate this disease.”

Dr. Hal Barron, President of R&D, GSK

The news of the FDA’s approval of Tafenoquine has been covered by the international press, why not check out the BBC’s coverage of the story.

More than half of the human population is at risk of contracting, and potentially dying, from a completely preventable disease: malaria. Despite all the medicinal advances and efforts researchers, organisations and scientists put in, they need help in order to fight such complex, diverse issues the world faces. It’s time to take action, and this starts by raising awareness and preventing infection from mosquitoes as much as we can as individuals.

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