Tafenoquine, developed by UK pharmaceutical company GSK and non-profit Medicines for Malaria Venture, is a single-dose treatment.
Dr Pauline Williams, GSK’s head of global health research and development, said this was a “key advantage” of the drug.
“With every medicine that requires a prolonged course of treatment – wherever you live in the world – compliance is known to be poor. Once symptoms subside people tend not to complete the course. Giving a single treatment gives patients protection from relapse,” she said.
P. vivax is not as deadly as P. falciparum but is still a horrible disease, said Dr Williams.
“As medical students we were always taught that P. vivax was the more benign form of malaria. But the disease is miserable and is characterised by multiple relapses – each of these relapses can lead to severe complications including organ failure and death,” she said.
Scientists hope that the new drug will be an important tool in the battle to eliminate malaria, alongside existing methods such as indoor residual spraying and long-lasting insecticide treated nets.
In a study of 522 patients with P. vivax malaria 60 per cent were relapse free, six months after taking the drug.