Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) have become the mainstay for malaria treatment in almost all malaria endemic settings. Artemisinin derivatives are highly potent and fast acting antimalarials; but they have a short half-life and need to be combined with partner drugs with a longer half-life to clear the remaining parasites after a standard 3-day ACT regimen. When they were introduced, ACTs were highly efficacious and have contributed to the steep decrease of malaria over the last decades. However, parasites with decreased susceptibility to artemisinins have emerged in some parts of the world, followed by ACTs’ failure, due to both decreased susceptibility to artemisinin and partner drug resistance. Efforts have therefore been intensified to search for more effective antimalarial agents.

Delivering his inaugural lecture on “Malaria treatment failures: What can we do?” on Friday 20th May 2022, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, Professor Johnson Nyarko-Boampong, who is a pharmacist and a biomedical scientist indicated that he and his team have made important breakthroughs in finding alternative and possibly more effective therapeutics for treating malaria. Xylopic acid, a pure compound isolated from the fruits of the Xylopia aethiopica, locally known as hwentia, has been established to possess prophylactic and curative antimalarial effects and antipyretic properties.

The antimalarial properties were determined by employing xylopic acid (10–100 mg/kg) in ICR mice infected with Plasmodium berghei. Xylopic acid exerted significant (P < 0.05) effects on P. berghei infection similar to artemether/lumefantrine, the standard drug. Furthermore, it significantly (P < 0.05) reduced the lipopolysaccharide- (LPS-) induced fever in Sprague-Dawley rats similar to prednisolone.

The scientists, therefore, conclude that xylopic acid, a component of hwentia is an ideal antimalarial drug candidate and called for further research into this area and the possible development of this lead compound.