Antiplasmodial dihetarylthioethers target the coenzyme A synthesis pathway in Plasmodium falciparum erythrocytic stages
Background: Malaria is a widespread infectious disease that threatens a large proportion of the population in tropical and subtropical areas. Given the emerging resistance against the current standard anti-malaria chemotherapeutics, the development of alternative drugs is urgently needed. New anti-malarials representing chemotypes unrelated to currently used drugs have an increased potential for displaying novel mechanisms of action and thus exhibit low risk of cross-resistance against established drugs. Results: Phenotypic screening of a small library (32 kinase-inhibitor analogs) against Plasmodium falciparum NF54-luc asexual erythrocytic stage parasites identified a diarylthioether structurally unrelated to registered drugs. Hit expansion led to a series in which the most potent congener displayed nanomolar antiparasitic activity ( IC50 = 39 nM, 3D7 strain). Structure–activity relationship analysis revealed a thieno[2,3-d]pyrimidine on one side of the thioether linkage as a prerequisite for antiplasmodial activity. Within the series, the oxazole derivative KuWei173 showed high potency ( IC50 = 75 nM; 3D7 strain), good solubility in aqueous solvents (1.33 mM), and >100-fold selectivity toward human cell lines. Rescue experiments identified inhibition of the plasmodial coenzyme A synthesis as a possible mode of action for this compound class. Conclusions: The class of antiplasmodial bishetarylthioethers reported here has been shown to interfere with plasmodial coenzyme A synthesis, a mechanism of action not yet exploited for registered anti-malarial drugs. The oxazole congener KuWei173 displays double-digit nanomolar antiplasmodial activity, selectivity against human cell lines, high drug likeness, and thus represents a promising chemical starting point for further drug development.