Last week, we announced the approval of Tafenoquine by the FDA. Sold under the brand name Krintafel, Tafenoquine is an anti-malaria drug which works by removing the P. vivax malaria parasites from the liver to prevent relapsing malaria.
We made an effort to highlight it’s adverse side effects including headaches, depression and anxiety, these are “common” according to the Patient Information Leaflet, experienced by 1 in 10 patients. The package also mentions “self-endangering behaviour”, “panic attacks” and “feeling confused” – but these effects are only briefly mentioned with no indication as to their frequency and likelihood.
However other, more significant, side effects have since surfaced, experienced by the armed forces who were administered malaria medicine frequently when deployed in malaria-endemic regions. The drugs causing these side effects are notably two drugs: Mefloquine and Tafenoquine.
The Battle Ground
Many veterans have released information on the effects the drugs have had on them. Scientists and doctors alike have discovered a distinct correlation between the long-term administration of Mefloquine and Tafenoquine and serious health problems frequently experienced by ex-military personnel who operated in malaria-endemic regions.
The devastating side effects and health problems include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression and anxiety, seizures, hallucinations and psychosis, suicide attempts and suicide.
In an exclusive interview for Fight Malaria, Dr Remington Nevin of The Quinism Foundation told us that:
Every drug that is eventually banned in the US, or that receives a strong boxed warning, was once deemed safe and effective by the FDA and its advisory committees. Mefloquine is a good example of this.
The Australian Minister for Social Services, Mr Tehan, has responded to the issue by “rejecting repeated requests to fund independent follow-up health studies involving these veterans.”
Why, then, are these seemingly dangerous and problematic drugs still prescribed to patients? Well, each drug has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Whilst other malaria drugs do have associated side effects, they aren’t as threatening and dangerous as those of Mefloquine and Tafenoquine. The effects are merely physical, not life-threatening psychological ones.
Mefloquine and Tafenoquine are from the same family of drugs, they are both Quinolines. This is a class of drug with inherent central nervous system toxicity, whose use is likely contributing significantly to the global burden of mental illness and neuropsychiatric disability.
The pharmaceutical drug behind Tafenoquine, or Krintafel as it’s marketed, is GSK. At their Q2 Results, Tafenoquine appeared fourth on their list of products ‘driving growth’. Many believe that the financial potential of drugs like Tafenoquine are encouraging drugs companies to pursue the development of it.
That being said, the medicinal purposes of these drugs are very positive and without them, our veterans may have passed away. With Mefloquine, the FDA revoked their full endorsement after claims of neuropsychiatric side effects, changing the label to ensure that the adverse effects were clearly displayed. With Tafenoquine, the FDA may reconsider its approval for the drug, potentially revoking their endorsement.