Vital Signs

deadly bite

A mosquito’s bite seems harmless in the United States, but Jonathan Vennerstrom Ph.D., knows firsthand that in developing countries it means death.

Every 30 seconds, a child dies of malaria -- nearly 1 million a year.

The UNMC researcher leads an international team working feverishly to save lives. Their work holds promise for the world’s next and best weapon against malaria -- a new class of potent drugs that are more effective, cheaper and have fewer side effects.

Dr. Vennerstrom’s research is so promising that he’s received $5.5 million in grants from Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), which is partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Vennerstrom’s first successful drug candidate developed by Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals, called 0Z277, is in the final phase of clinical testing in India, Bangladesh and Thailand. A second, even superior drug candidate, referred to as OZ439, is being tested in a first phase study in Florida.

“We’re happy with the speed of the process and we hope a drug soon will be available to the millions of people affected by this terrible disease,” Dr. Vennerstrom said.

Christopher Hentschel, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of MMV, said the UNMC-led work stands out in the research field. “They have surpassed our expectations as they have moved so successfully and rapidly through candidate selection and now drug development. The need to develop a low-cost antimalarial drug is more urgent than ever. This could be the biggest breakthrough in malaria treatment in more than 80 years.”

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