BCX4945 belongs to a class of drugs known as transition state analogs that Dr. Schramm has been developing since 1994. Transition states form in every chemical change and whenever an enzyme does its job of converting one chemical (the substrate) into another (the product). The fleeting transition-state molecule is neither substrate nor product, but something in between-a ghostly intermediate to which the enzyme clings for just one billionth of a millionth of a second.

After figuring out the brief-lived transition-state structure for a particular enzyme, Dr. Schramm is able to design transition-state analogs to knock that enzyme out of action. The analogs closely resemble the actual transition-state structure but with one big difference: they powerfully inhibit the enzyme by binding to it and not letting go.

The transition-state analog BCX4945 was chosen for this study because of its high affinity for both P. falciparum PNP and human PNP (which the parasite obtains from the red blood cells it infects). Since PNP is abundant in mammalian red blood cells and those cells are constantly replaced, BCX4945 is toxic only to the parasite and not its mammalian hosts. (Two of Dr. Schramm's other PNP inhibitors-one for T-cell cancers, the other for gout-are being evaluated in clinical trials.)

"Inhibiting PNP differs from all other current approaches for treating malaria," said Dr. Schramm. "For that reason, BCX4945 fits well with the current World Health Organization protocols for malaria treatment, which call for using combination-therapy approaches against the disease."

Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine