Malaysian prince’s ‘pill’ targets dengue scourge
KUALA LUMPUR A MALAYSIAN prince is promoting a novel weapon against the worsening scourge of dengue fever: a protein “pill” that starves mosquito larvae and could revolutionise the global dengue fight.
It is a fight that is intensifying: more than 2.5 billion people — around 40 percent of Earth’s population — live in areas susceptible to the mosquito- borne virus, with up to 100 million infected annually, according to the World Health Organisation.
Dengue kills 20,000 people worldwide every year, and its complexity — and what health advocates say is a lack of priority given the race to find cures for higher profile viruses such as AIDS — means a vaccine has proved elusive.
It is mainly transmitted to humans by the aedes aegypti mosquito, and causes symptoms including high fever, body aches, rashes and heavy fatigue. In severe cases, white blood cells drop to potentially fatal levels.
Enter Prince Naquiyuddin Jaafar, one of the most popular members of Malaysia’s nobility, whose anti-dengue technology targets the offspring of mosquitoes in a bid to win the battle against the virus-spreading pest.
A former diplomat and son of Malaysia’s past king, Naquiyuddin, 65, has been involved in a wide range of philanthropic and charitable pursuits, but dengue has been a particular passion.
It is a growing problem in Malaysia, where cases surged 22 percent to 6,141 from January to March this year, with 17 deaths. Just eight dengue deaths were reported for all of 2011.
Among Naquiyuddin’s diverse business activities is the biotech company he founded in 2007, EntoGenex, which has taken a pre-existing protein called the Trypsin Modulating Oostatic Factor, or TMOF, and developed it into what he calls a fatal “diet pill” for mosquitoes.
TMOF is mixed into yeast cells which are then inserted in rice husks, allowing them to float on water where they will be eaten by mosquito larvae, said Alan Brandt, EntoGenex’s research head.
“Larvae love yeast,” he added.
Once consumed, it shuts down mosquito larvae digestive systems, starving them to death before they can grow and spread dengue, Naquiyuddin said as he showed slides and photographs of dead mosquitos at the firm’s high-tech research facility in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
“The ‘pill’ has a 100 percent success rate against all larvae species within 24 hours, and there is no way for resistance to build as it is not a toxic chemical but a protein which only affects mosquitos,” Naquiyuddin said.
The protein stops production of trypsin, a critical enzyme without which digestion cannot occur.