MAJOR SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS
In malaria-endemic areas, Plasmodium falciparum parasitemia is common in apparently healthy children and severe malaria is commonly misdiagnosed in patients with incidental parasitemia. We assessed whether the plasma Plasmodium falciparum DNA concentration is a useful datum for distinguishing uncomplicated from severe malaria in African children and Asian adults. P. falciparum DNA concentrations were measured by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 224 African children (111 with uncomplicated malaria and 113 with severe malaria) and 211 Asian adults (100 with uncomplicated malaria and 111 with severe malaria) presenting with acute falciparum malaria. The diagnostic accuracy of plasma P. falciparum DNA concentrations in identifying severe malaria was 0.834 for children and 0.788 for adults, similar to that of plasma P. falciparum HRP2 levels and substantially superior to that of parasite densities (P < .0001). The diagnostic accuracy of plasma P. falciparum DNA concentrations plus plasma P. falciparum HRP2 concentrations was significantly greater than that of plasma P. falciparum HRP2 concentrations alone (0.904 for children [P = .004] and 0.847 for adults [P = .003]). Quantitative real-time PCR measurement of parasite DNA in plasma is a useful method for diagnosing severe falciparum malaria on fresh or archived plasma samples.
Indirect clinical measures assessing anti-malarial drug transmission-blocking activity in falciparum malaria include measurement of the duration of gametocytaemia, the rate of gametocyte clearance or the area under the gametocytaemia-time curve (AUC). These may provide useful comparative information, but they underestimate dose-response relationships for transmission-blocking activity. Following 8-aminoquinoline administration P. falciparum gametocytes are sterilized within hours, whereas clearance from blood takes days. Gametocytaemia AUC and clearance times are determined predominantly by the more numerous female gametocytes, which are generally less drug sensitive than the minority male gametocytes, whereas transmission-blocking activity and thus infectivity is determined by the more sensitive male forms. In choosing doses of transmission-blocking drugs there is no substitute yet for mosquito-feeding studies.
Primaquine is the only generally available anti-malarial that prevents relapse in vivax and ovale malaria, and the only potent gametocytocide in falciparum malaria. Primaquine becomes increasingly important as malaria-endemic countries move towards elimination, and although it is widely recommended, it is commonly not given to malaria patients because of haemolytic toxicity in subjects who are glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficient (gene frequency typically 3-30% in malaria endemic areas; >180 different genetic variants). In six decades of primaquine use in approximately 200 million people, 14 deaths have been reported. Confining the estimate to reports with known denominators gives an estimated mortality of one in 621,428 (upper 95% CI: one in 407,807). All but one death followed multiple dosing to prevent vivax malaria relapse. Review of dose-response relationships and clinical trials of primaquine in G6PD deficiency suggests that the currently recommended WHO single low dose (0.25 mg base/kg) to block falciparum malaria transmission confers a very low risk of haemolytic toxicity.
Artemisinin resistance in Plasmodium falciparum has emerged in Southeast Asia and now poses a threat to the control and elimination of malaria. Mapping the geographic extent of resistance is essential for planning containment and elimination strategies.
Between May 2011 and April 2013, we enrolled 1241 adults and children with acute, uncomplicated falciparum malaria in an open-label trial at 15 sites in 10 countries (7 in Asia and 3 in Africa). Patients received artesunate, administered orally at a daily dose of either 2 mg per kilogram of body weight per day or 4 mg per kilogram, for 3 days, followed by a standard 3-day course of artemisinin-based combination therapy. Parasite counts in peripheral-blood samples were measured every 6 hours, and the parasite clearance half-lives were determined.
The median parasite clearance half-lives ranged from 1.9 hours in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 7.0 hours at the Thailand–Cambodia border. Slowly clearing infections (parasite clearance half-life >5 hours), strongly associated with single point mutations in the “propeller” region of the P. falciparum kelch protein gene on chromosome 13 (kelch13), were detected throughout mainland Southeast Asia from southern Vietnam to central Myanmar. The incidence of pretreatment and post-treatment gametocytemia was higher among patients with slow parasite clearance, suggesting greater potential for transmission. In western Cambodia, where artemisinin-based combination therapies are failing, the 6-day course of antimalarial therapy was associated with a cure rate of 97.7% (95% confidence interval, 90.9 to 99.4) at 42 days.
Artemisinin resistance to P. falciparum, which is now prevalent across mainland Southeast Asia, is associated with mutations in kelch13. Prolonged courses of artemisinin-based combination therapies are currently efficacious in areas where standard 3-day treatments are failing. (Funded by the U.K. Department of International Development and others; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT01350856.)
KAE609 (cipargamin; formerly NITD609, Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases) is a new synthetic antimalarial spiroindolone analogue with potent, dose-dependent antimalarial activity against asexual and sexual stages of Plasmodium falciparum.
We conducted a phase 2, open-label study at three centers in Thailand to assess the antimalarial efficacy, safety, and adverse-event profile of KAE609, at a dose of 30 mg per day for 3 days, in two sequential cohorts of adults with uncomplicated P. vivax malaria (10 patients) or P. falciparum malaria (11). The primary end point was the parasite clearance time.
The median parasite clearance time was 12 hours in each cohort (interquartile range, 8 to 16 hours in patients with P. vivax malaria and 10 to 16 hours in those with P. falciparum malaria). The median half-lives for parasite clearance were 0.95 hours (range, 0.68 to 2.01; interquartile range, 0.85 to 1.14) in the patients with P. vivax malaria and 0.90 hours (range, 0.68 to 1.64; interquartile range, 0.78 to 1.07) in those with P. falciparum malaria. By comparison, only 19 of 5076 patients with P. falciparum malaria (<1%) who were treated with oral artesunate in Southeast Asia had a parasite clearance half-life of less than 1 hour. Adverse events were reported in 14 patients (67%), with nausea being the most common. The adverse events were generally mild and did not lead to any discontinuations of the drug. The mean terminal half-life for the elimination of KAE609 was 20.8 hours (range, 11.3 to 37.6), supporting a once-daily oral dosing regimen.
KAE609, at dose of 30 mg daily for 3 days, cleared parasitemia rapidly in adults with uncomplicated P. vivax or P. falciparum malaria. (Funded by Novartis and others; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT01524341.).
Although global morbidity and mortality have decreased substantially, malaria, a parasite infection of red blood cells, still kills roughly 2000 people per day, most of whom are children in Africa. Two factors largely account for these decreases; increased deployment of insecticide-treated bednets and increased availability of highly effective artemisinin combination treatments. In large trials, parenteral artesunate (an artemisinin derivative) reduced severe malaria mortality by 22.5% in Africa and 34.7% in Asia compared with quinine, whereas adjunctive interventions have been uniformly unsuccessful. Rapid tests have been an important addition to microscopy for malaria diagnosis.
Chemopreventive strategies have been increasingly deployed in Africa, notably intermittent sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine treatment in pregnancy, and monthly amodiaquine-sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine during the rainy season months in children aged between 3 months and 5 years across the sub-Sahel. Enthusiasm for malaria elimination has resurfaced. This ambitious but laudable goal faces many challenges, including the worldwide economic downturn, diffculties in elimination of vivax malaria, development of pyrethroid resistance in some anopheline mosquitoes, and the emergence of artemisinin resistance in Plasmodium falciparum in southeast Asia. We review the epidemiology, clinical features, pathology, prevention, and treatment of malaria.
Antimalarial drugs have usually been first deployed in areas of malaria endemicity at doses which were too low, particularly for high-risk groups such as young children and pregnant women. This may accelerate the emergence and spread of resistance, thereby shortening the useful life of the drug, but it is an inevitable consequence of the current imprecise method of dose finding. An alternative approach to dose finding is suggested in which phase 2 studies concentrate initially on pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic (PK-PD) characterization and in vivo calibration of in vitro susceptibility information. PD assessment is facilitated in malaria because serial parasite densities are readily assessed by microscopy, and at low densities by quantitative PCR, so that initial therapeutic responses can be quantitated accurately. If the in vivo MIC could be characterized early in phase 2 studies, it would provide a sound basis for the choice of dose in all target populations in subsequent combination treatments. Population PK assessments in phase 2b and phase 3 studies which characterize PK differences between different age groups, clinical disease states, and human populations can then be combined with the PK-PD observations to provide a sound evidence base for dose recommendations in different target groups.
One hundred and twenty years ago, the Italian malariologists Marchiafava and Bignami proposed that the fundamental pathological process underlying lethal falciparum malaria was microvascular obstruction. Since then, several alternative hypotheses have been proposed. These formed the basis for adjunctive interventions, which have either been ineffective or harmful. Recent evidence strongly suggests that Marchiafava and Bignami were right.
In areas of low malaria transmission, it is currently recommended that a single dose of primaquine (0.75 mg base/kg; 45 mg adult dose) be added to artemisinin combination treatment (ACT) in acute falciparum malaria to block malaria transmission. Review of studies of transmission-blocking activity based on the infectivity of patients or volunteers to anopheline mosquitoes, and of haemolytic toxicity in glucose 6-dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficient subjects, suggests that a lower primaquine dose (0.25 mg base/kg) would be safer and equally effective. This lower dose could be deployed together with ACTs without G6PD testing wherever use of a specific gametocytocide is indicated.
In a prospective infant cohort, 21 infants developed Plasmodium vivax malaria during their first year. Twelve of their mothers also had vivax malaria in the corresponding pregnancies or postpartum period. The genotypes of the maternal and infant infections were all different. Eight of the 12 mothers and 9 of the 21 infants had recurrent infections. Relapse parasite genotypes were different to the initial infection in 13 of 20 (65%) mothers compared with 5 of 24 (21%) infants (P = .02). The first P. vivax relapses of life are usually genetically homologous, whereas relapse in adults may result from activation of heterologous latent hypnozoites acquired from previous inoculations.
Plasmodium vivax is a major cause of febrile illness in endemic areas of Asia, Central and South America, and the horn of Africa. Plasmodium vivax infections are characterized by relapses of malaria arising from persistent liver stages of the parasite (hypnozoites) which can be prevented only by 8-aminoquinoline anti-malarials. Tropical P. vivax relapses at three week intervals if rapidly eliminated anti-malarials are given for treatment, whereas in temperate regions and parts of the sub-tropics P. vivax infections are characterized either by a long incubation or a long-latency period between illness and relapse - in both cases approximating 8-10 months. The epidemiology of the different relapse phenotypes has not been defined adequately despite obvious relevance to malaria control and elimination. The number of sporozoites inoculated by the anopheline mosquito is an important determinant of both the timing and the number of relapses. The intervals between relapses display a remarkable periodicity which has not been explained. Evidence is presented that the proportion of patients who have successive relapses is relatively constant and that the factor which activates hypnozoites and leads to regular interval relapse in vivax malaria is the systemic febrile illness itself. It is proposed that in endemic areas a large proportion of the population harbours latent hypnozoites which can be activated by a systemic illness such as vivax or falciparum malaria. This explains the high rates of vivax following falciparum malaria, the high proportion of heterologous genotypes in relapses, the higher rates of relapse in people living in endemic areas compared with artificial infection studies, and, by facilitating recombination between different genotypes, contributes to P. vivax genetic diversity particularly in low transmission settings. Long-latency P. vivax phenotypes may be more widespread and more prevalent than currently thought. These observations have important implications for the assessment of radical treatment efficacy and for malaria control and elimination.
Severe malaria is a major cause of childhood death and often the main reason for paediatric hospital admission in sub-Saharan Africa. Quinine is still the established treatment of choice, although evidence from Asia suggests that artesunate is associated with a lower mortality. We compared parenteral treatment with either artesunate or quinine in African children with severe malaria.
This open-label, randomised trial was undertaken in 11 centres in nine African countries. Children (<15 years) with severe falciparum malaria were randomly assigned to parenteral artesunate or parenteral quinine. Randomisation was in blocks of 20, with study numbers corresponding to treatment allocations kept inside opaque sealed paper envelopes. The trial was open label at each site, and none of the investigators or trialists, apart from for the trial statistician, had access to the summaries of treatment allocations. The primary outcome measure was in-hospital mortality, analysed by intention to treat. This trial is registered, number ISRCTN50258054.
5425 children were enrolled; 2712 were assigned to artesunate and 2713 to quinine. All patients were analysed for the primary outcome. 230 (8•5%) patients assigned to artesunate treatment died compared with 297 (10•9%) assigned to quinine treatment (odds ratio [OR] stratified for study site 0•75, 95% CI 0•63-0•90; relative reduction 22•5%, 95% CI 8•1-36•9; p=0•0022). Incidence of neurological sequelae did not differ significantly between groups, but the development of coma (65/1832 [3•5%] with artesunate vs 91/1768 [5•1%] with quinine; OR 0•69 95% CI 0•49-0•95; p=0•0231), convulsions (224/2712 [8•3%] vs 273/2713 [10•1%]; OR 0•80, 0•66-0•97; p=0•0199), and deterioration of the coma score (166/2712 [6•1%] vs 208/2713 [7•7%]; OR 0•78, 0•64-0•97; p=0•0245) were all significantly less frequent in artesunate recipients than in quinine recipients. Post-treatment hypoglycaemia was also less frequent in patients assigned to artesunate than in those assigned to quinine (48/2712 [1•8%] vs 75/2713 [2•8%]; OR 0•63, 0•43-0•91; p=0•0134). Artesunate was well tolerated, with no serious drug-related adverse effects.
Artesunate substantially reduces mortality in African children with severe malaria. These data, together with a meta-analysis of all trials comparing artesunate and quinine, strongly suggest that parenteral artesunate should replace quinine as the treatment of choice for severe falciparum malaria worldwide.
Artemisinin-based combination therapies are the recommended first-line treatments of falciparum malaria in all countries with endemic disease. There are recent concerns that the efficacy of such therapies has declined on the Thai-Cambodian border, historically a site of emerging antimalarial-drug resistance.
In two open-label, randomized trials, we compared the efficacies of two treatments for uncomplicated falciparum malaria in Pailin, western Cambodia, and Wang Pha, northwestern Thailand: oral artesunate given at a dose of 2 mg per kilogram of body weight per day, for 7 days, and artesunate given at a dose of 4 mg per kilogram per day, for 3 days, followed by mefloquine at two doses totaling 25 mg per kilogram. We assessed in vitro and in vivo Plasmodium falciparum susceptibility, artesunate pharmacokinetics, and molecular markers of resistance.
We studied 40 patients in each of the two locations. The overall median parasite clearance times were 84 hours (interquartile range, 60 to 96) in Pailin and 48 hours (interquartile range, 36 to 66) in Wang Pha (P<0.001).Recrudescence confirmed by means of polymerase-chain-reaction assay occurred in 6 of 20 patients (30%) receiving artesunate monotherapy and 1 of 20 (5%) receiving artesunate-mefloquine therapy in Pailin, as compared with 2 of 20 (10%) and 1 of 20 (5%), respectively, in Wang Pha (P=0.31). These markedly different parasitologic responses were not explained by differences in age, artesunate or dihydroartemisinin pharmacokinetics, results of isotopic in vitro sensitivity tests, or putative molecular correlates of P. falciparum drug resistance (mutations or amplifications of the gene encoding a multidrug resistance protein [PfMDR1] or mutations in the gene encoding sarco-endoplasmic reticulum calcium ATPase6 [PfSERCA]). Adverse events were mild and did not differ significantly between the two treatment groups.
P. falciparum has reduced in vivo susceptibility to artesunate in western Cambodia as compared with northwestern Thailand. Resistance is characterized by slow parasite clearance in vivo without corresponding reductions on conventional in vitro susceptibility testing. Containment measures are urgently needed. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00493363, and Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN64835265.)
2009 Massachusetts Medical Society
In the treatment of severe malaria, intravenous artesunate is more rapidly acting than intravenous quinine in terms of parasite clearance, is safer, and is simpler to administer, but whether it can reduce mortality is uncertain.
We did an open-label randomised controlled trial in patients admitted to hospital with severe falciparum malaria in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Myanmar. We assigned individuals intravenous artesunate 2.4 mg/kg bodyweight given as a bolus (n=730) at 0, 12, and 24 h, and then daily, or intravenous quinine (20 mg salt per kg loading dose infused over 4 h then 10 mg/kg infused over 2-8 h three times a day; n=731). Oral medication was substituted when possible to complete treatment. Our primary endpoint was death from severe malaria, and analysis was by intention to treat.
We assessed all patients randomised for the primary endpoint. Mortality in artesunate recipients was 15% (107 of 730) compared with 22% (164 of 731) in quinine recipients; an absolute reduction of 34.7% (95% CI 18.5-47.6%; p=0.0002). Treatment with artesunate was well tolerated, whereas quinine was associated with hypoglycaemia (relative risk 3.2, 1.3-7.8; p=0.009).
Artesunate should become the treatment of choice for severe falciparum malaria in adults.
To determine the optimum duration of follow-up for the assessment of drug efficacy against Plasmodium falciparum malaria, 96 trial arms from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with follow-up of 28 days or longer that were conducted between 1990 and 2003 were analyzed. These trials enrolled 13,772 patients, and participating patients comprised 23% of all patients enrolled in RCTs over the past 40 years; 61 (64%) trial arms were conducted in areas where the rate of malaria transmission was low, and 58 (50%) trial arms were supported by parasite genotyping to distinguish true recrudescences from reinfections. The median overall failure rate reported was 10% (range, 0 to 47%). The widely used day 14 assessment had a sensitivity of between 0 and 37% in identifying treatment failures and had no predictive value. Assessment at day 28 had a sensitivity of 66% overall (28 to 100% in individual trials) but could be used to predict the true failure rate if either parasite genotyping was performed (r(2) = 0.94) or if the entomological inoculation rate was known. In the assessment of drug efficacy against falciparum malaria, 28 days should be the minimum period of follow-up.
Antimalarial drug resistance emerges de novo predominantly in areas of low malaria transmission. Because of the logarithmic distribution of parasite numbers in human malaria infections, inadequately treated high biomass infections are a major source of de novo antimalarial resistance, whereas use of antimalarial prophylaxis provides a low resistance selection risk. Slowly eliminated antimalarials encourage resistance largely by providing a selective filter for resistant parasites acquired from others, and not by selecting resistance de novo. The de novo emergence of resistance can be prevented by use of antimalarial combinations. Artemisinin derivative combinations are particularly effective. Ensuring adequate treatment of the relatively few heavily infected patients would slow the emergence of resistance.
We studied the occurrence, clinical manifestations, and mechanism of hypoglycemia in patients with falciparum malaria in eastern Thailand. Hypoglycemia, which was often severe and recurrent, occurred in 17 patients, including 12 in a series of 151 patients with cerebral malaria. Thirty episodes were investigated. Plasma concentrations of insulin and C peptide were inappropriately high, and lactate and alanine concentrations were significantly higher than in patients with falciparum malaria who were normoglycemic (P less than 0.05). Sixteen patients had received quinine; plasma quinine and insulin concentrations were correlated at the time of hypoglycemia (P = 0.007). In seven healthy fasting volunteers intravenous quinine increased the mean plasma insulin concentration (+/- S.D.) from 8.9 +/- 3.1 to 17.1 +/- 8.4 mU per liter (P = 0.02) and reduced the mean plasma glucose concentration from 88 +/- 20 to 68 +/- 23 mg per deciliter (P = 0.002). Our observations indicate that in falciparum malaria quinine-induced insulin secretion may precipitate hypoglycemia, but other factors, including the large glucose requirements of the malaria parasites may also contribute. This important complication, associated with pregnancy and severe disease, must be excluded in all patients with falciparum malaria who have impaired or deteriorating consciousness.
In cerebral malaria, the use of currently recommended doses of intravenous quinine may result in subtherapeutic plasma concentrations during the critical first 24 hours of treatment. A loading dose of quinine (20 mg/kg quinine dihydrochloride, equivalent to 16.7 mg/kg base, infused over 4 hours) proved a rapid and safe method of achieving plasma concentrations above the high minimum inhibitory concentrations for Plasmodium falciparum prevalent in Eastern Thailand.