Malaria Journal 2020; 19(1): 268 -

Clinical trials to assess adjuvant therapeutics for severe malaria.

Varo R, Erice C, Johnson S, Bassat Q, Kain KC
- Despite potent anti-malarial treatment, mortality rates associated with severe falciparum malaria remain high. To attempt to improve outcome, several trials have assessed a variety of potential adjunctive therapeutics, however none to date has been shown to be beneficial. This may be due, at least partly, to the therapeutics chosen and clinical trial design used. Here, we highlight three themes that could facilitate the choice and evaluation of putative adjuvant interventions for severe malaria, paving the way for their assessment in randomized controlled trials. Most clinical trials of adjunctive therapeutics to date have been underpowered due to the large number of participants required to reach mortality endpoints, rendering these study designs challenging and expensive to conduct. These limitations may be mitigated by the use of risk-stratification of participants and application of surrogate endpoints. Appropriate surrogate endpoints include direct measures of pathways causally involved in the pathobiology of severe and fatal malaria, including markers of host immune and endothelial activation and microcirculatory dysfunction. We propose using circulating markers of these pathways to identify high-risk participants that would be most likely to benefit from adjunctive therapy, and further by adopting these biomarkers as surrogate endpoints; moreover, choosing interventions that target deleterious host immune responses that directly contribute to microcirculatory dysfunction, multi-organ dysfunction and death; and, finally, prioritizing where possible, drugs that act on these pathways that are already approved by the FDA, or other regulators, for other indications, and are known to be safe in target populations, including children. An emerging understanding of the critical role of the host response in severe malaria pathogenesis may facilitate both clinical trial design and the search of effective adjunctive therapeutics.