WRAIR investigators pioneering work on an exciting new class of antimalarial compounds

March 26, 2008

March 26, 2008 Silver Spring, MD: Artemisinins in Malaria Therapy, written by WRAIR researchers Dr. Qugui Li, Dr. Wilbur K. Milhous, and Dr. (COL) Peter J. Weina (Division of Experimental Therapeutics at the WRAIR, Silver Spring, MD) provides a fascinating overview of the historical use and recent developments in the treatment of one of the oldest and still one of the most prevalent scourges of mankind - malaria.

WRAIR, initially known as the Army Medical School, was founded in 1893 by then U.S. Army Surgeon General George Sternberg. In 1900 General Sternberg sent the newly appointed U.S. Army Yellow Fever Commission to Cuba headed by Major Walter Reed. Major Reed and his team became the first to confirm the theory that yellow fever was transmitted by a mosquito vector. Since this historic discovery, WRAIR's many contributions to mankind in its 100 plus year history includes the discovery of the etiology and treatment of many of mankind's leading killers.

More than half of the routine vaccines given to service members were co-developed by the military. Development of other licensed vaccines was supervised by investigators who began their careers at military research centers (e.g. yellow fever vaccine by former Army Surgeon General William Gorgas, mumps, measles, and varicella vaccines by Maurice Hilleman, and oral polio vaccine by Albert Sabin). Vaccines currently in advanced development stages include new adenovirus vaccines, and vaccines for malaria, dengue, and hepatitis E.

The history of using artemisinins for malarial like conditions dates back more than 2000 years to when it was a part of the herbal arsenal utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a treatment for malarial like conditions. Artemisinins are derived from the sweet wormwood plant Artemisia annua which not only grows in China but also just down the road from WRAIR along the Potomac River. Revival of the use of artemisinins in the era of modern medicine began in China in the 1970's with the first purified crystalline artemisinins produced in Shandon Province in 1972.

Although lead author Dr. Qigui Li received his MD and pharmacology degrees in China in the early 1980s, he did not become aware of artemisinins until the late 1980s, while a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. Dr. Li stated that "the Chinese had first published their findings in the Chinese Medical Journal in 1979, but when the WHO approached Chinese scientists for samples of the plant so they could conduct their own assays they were rebuffed. In retrospect, we can appreciate that this was just after the Nixon era, Mao Tse-tung was still in power, and the Chinese were very skeptical about sharing information for fear it would be utilized by the commercial pharmaceutical companies in the West for monetary gain." Since joining the WRAIR team in 1991, Dr. Li has performed or supervised the majority of the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics on all of the artemisinin derivatives.

In December of 2005, the World Health Organization stated, for the first time, artemisinins are the first line of therapy for most cases of malarial illnesses. Artemisinins are also being investigated as antiviral and anticancer agents.
Dr. Dr. Qigui Li is currently the senior staff Pharmacologist and Section Chief of Pharmacokinetics/Pharmacodynamics in the Department of Pharmacology, Division of Experimental Therapeutics at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He has received the WHO Research Fellowship Award, the NRC Research Associate Fellowship Award, and Best Investigator/PhD. Candidate from Schering Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Li received his Pharmacology/MD degree from Tongji Medical University, Wuhan, PR China in 1983 and his PhD in pharmacokinetics from the Free University of Berlin, West Berlin, FR Germany in 1989. Following the PhD in pharmacokinetics, Dr. Li completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Free University of Berlin in 1991. He joined WRAIR in 1991.

Dr. Wilbur K. Milhous is currently a Professor of Global Health & Internal Medicine and serves as the Associate Dean for Research at the College of Public Health, University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa. He gained his 28 years of experience as a small molecule drug developer in numerous assignments at the WRAIR serving more recently as Chief Science Officer for Therapeutics and the Research Coordinator for the MIDRP. Under the mentorship of former WRAIR scientists Bob Desjardins and Craig Canfield, Dr. Milhous underwent his infectious disease chemotherapy training in a combined doctoral (University of North Carolina) and training with industry (GlaxoSmithKline) program prior to arriving at WRAIR in 1983. He was the first scientist to conduct in vitro testing of artemisinin extracts and has since been totally fascinated with the molecule resulting in numerous publications and patents. Dr. Milhous, along with former WRAIR colleague, Dennis Kyle, is currently teaching Critical Path Method as an academic discipline in the Global Health Infectious Diseases Research Program at USF Health.

Dr. (COL) Peter J. Weina is currently Chief, Pharmacology, , and Medical/Laboratory Director, Leishmaniasis Diagnostics Laboratory with the Division of Experimental Therapeutics at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, MD. He is also Chair, Integrated Product Team for the Development of Intravenous Artesunate, Military Infectious Diseases Research Program and Medical Research and Material Command, Fort Detrick, MD. He received a PhD (Zoology & Pathology) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1988 and completed his MD degree from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in 1996. He completed a residency in Internal Medicine in 1999 and a Fellowship in Infectious Disease in 2002. Dr. Weina is currently a Fellow with the American College of Physicians and has been awarded one of America's Top Physicians - Infectious Diseases (2004-2005).

Artemisinins in Malaria Therapy derives from the expertise of three researchers from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Division of Experimental Therapeutics. It is available online at https://www.novapublishers.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=5792 through NOVA publishers.

Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

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