Critical to the development of new drugs for treatment of malaria is the capacity to safely evaluate their activity in human subjects. The approach that has been most commonly used is testing in subjects with natural malaria infection, a methodology that may expose symptomatic subjects to the risk of ineffective treatment. Here we describe the development and pilot testing of a system to undertake experimental infection using blood stage Plasmodium falciparum parasites (BSP). The objectives of the study were to assess the feasibility and safety of induced BSP infection as a method for assessment of efficacy of new drug candidates for the treatment of P. falciparum infection.
Methods and Findings
A prospective, unblinded, Phase IIa trial was undertaken in 19 healthy, malaria-naïve, male adult volunteers who were infected with BSP and followed with careful clinical and laboratory observation, including a sensitive, quantitative malaria PCR assay. Volunteers were randomly allocated to treatment with either of two licensed antimalarial drug combinations, artemether–lumefantrine (A/L) or atovaquone-proguanil (A/P). In the first cohort (n = 6) where volunteers received ∼360 BSP, none reached the target parasitemia of 1,000 before the day designated for antimalarial treatment (day 6). In the second and third cohorts, 13 volunteers received 1,800 BSP, with all reaching the target parasitemia before receiving treatment (A/L, n = 6; A/P, n = 7) The study demonstrated safety in the 19 volunteers tested, and a significant difference in the clearance kinetics of parasitemia between the drugs in the 13 evaluable subjects, with mean parasite reduction ratios of 759 for A/L and 17 for A/P (95% CI 120–4786 and 7–40 respectively; p<0.01).
This system offers a flexible and safe approach to testing the in vivo activity of novel antimalarials.