January 21, 2018

Research Roundup: A malaria-fighting toothpaste ingredient and new vaccine candidates for schistosomiasis and tuberculosis

Program Assistant
PATH/Doune Porter



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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.


Research carried out in part by an artificially intelligent (AI) robot discovered that a common ingredient in toothpaste—triclosan—showed potential to interrupt malaria-causing parasites at two critical stages of malaria progression. Triclosan, an ingredient used to prevent plaque build-up, is believed to halt the parasites growth in the blood and liver by inhibiting two different enzymes within the parasite, enoyl reductase and DHFR. Triclosan was able to target and inhibit DHFR, even in parasites resistant to the common antimalarial pyrimethamine. This discovery could potentially pave the way for new drug development, and the successful use of AI could result in more robots used for drug discovery purposes.

A National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded schistosomiasis vaccine candidate will soon enter a Phase 1b clinical trial in an endemic region of Brazil. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, the George Washington University, and the René Rachou Institute will lead a double-blind, randomized, and controlled study in a group of 60 males and non-pregnant females with potential previous exposure to the parasite to test two different formulations of the vaccine. Schistosomiasis is the second most deadly parasitic infection in the world, affecting more than 200 million people worldwide. The vaccine being tested targets one of two parasite species, which accounts for one-third of all cases and one-half of schistosomiasis deaths worldwide. Many individuals previously treated for schistosomiasis are susceptible to reinfection, highlighting the importance of developing a safe and effective vaccine.

A new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine candidate yielded positive results in monkeys, according to a new study published in Nature Medicine. The monkey species, rhesus macaques, are genetically similar to humans, but are significantly more susceptible to TB. The vaccine reduced overall TB disease by 68 percent—a major increase compared to the non-measurable protection rate of the current TB vaccine in rhesus macaques. Additionally, 41 percent of vaccinated monkeys had complete protection from TB, while 30 percent developed a less severe case of TB than unvaccinated monkeys. Thirty percent of vaccinated rhesus monkeys showed no protection. TB kills more than 1.7 million people every year, and the rise of drug-resistant TB highlights the growing need for an effective vaccine.