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Malar J. 2011 Sep 20;10:274. doi: 10.1186/1475-2875-10-274.

Discovery of potent, novel, non-toxic anti-malarial compounds via quantum modelling, virtual screening and in vitro experimental validation.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



Developing resistance towards existing anti-malarial therapies emphasize the urgent need for new therapeutic options. Additionally, many malaria drugs in use today have high toxicity and low therapeutic indices. Gradient Biomodeling, LLC has developed a quantum-model search technology that uses quantum similarity and does not depend explicitly on chemical structure, as molecules are rigorously described in fundamental quantum attributes related to individual pharmacological properties. Therapeutic activity, as well as toxicity and other essential properties can be analysed and optimized simultaneously, independently of one another. Such methodology is suitable for a search of novel, non-toxic, active anti-malarial compounds.


A set of innovative algorithms is used for the fast calculation and interpretation of electron-density attributes of molecular structures at the quantum level for rapid discovery of prospective pharmaceuticals. Potency and efficacy, as well as additional physicochemical, metabolic, pharmacokinetic, safety, permeability and other properties were characterized by the procedure. Once quantum models are developed and experimentally validated, the methodology provides a straightforward implementation for lead discovery, compound optimizzation and de novo molecular design.


Starting with a diverse training set of 26 well-known anti-malarial agents combined with 1730 moderately active and inactive molecules, novel compounds that have strong anti-malarial activity, low cytotoxicity and structural dissimilarity from the training set were discovered and experimentally validated. Twelve compounds were identified in silico and tested in vitro; eight of them showed anti-malarial activity (IC50 ≤ 10 μM), with six being very effective (IC50 ≤ 1 μM), and four exhibiting low nanomolar potency. The most active compounds were also tested for mammalian cytotoxicity and found to be non-toxic, with a therapeutic index of more than 6,900 for the most active compound.


Gradient's metric modelling approach and electron-density molecular representations can be powerful tools in the discovery and design of novel anti-malarial compounds. Since the quantum models are agnostic of the particular biological target, the technology can account for different mechanisms of action and be used for de novo design of small molecules with activity against not only the asexual phase of the malaria parasite, but also against the liver stage of the parasite development, which may lead to true causal prophylaxis.

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