BETHESDA, MARYLAND--The U.S. government is ratcheting up its attack on malaria, a disease that kills up to 1.5 million people a year. According to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the institute is taking steps to create a shared repository of malaria research materials, boost its malaria budget $1.8 million beyond the current $20 million (see chart), and support DNA sequencing of two new malaria parasite strains.
Last year, an international consortium began sequencing the deadliest strain, Plasmodium falciparum, and now NIAID--the world's largest funder of antimalaria research--is adding P. vivax and P. berghei to the list. NIAID's repository, meanwhile, will offer researchers high-quality, scarce reagents, which Fauci hopes will attract newcomers to the field. The initiative is supported by NIH director Harold Varmus, who pledged at a meeting in Dakar, Senegal, last winter to help build a new, Africa-based network of malaria researchers (Science, 17 January, p. 299). Varmus spoke again about the project at Columbia University last month, saying, "It is time to move malaria and other so-called tropical diseases out of the exotic alcoves in which medical schools have traditionally housed them and to put them in the mainstream" of biology.
Varmus and other NIH leaders are planning to meet with European and African health officials in the Netherlands on 7 July to review 130 research proposals they solicited last winter and develop a plan for shared financing. Says Stephen Hoffman, a U.S. Navy malaria researcher: "This is very exciting from the morale-building point of view; I hope it translates into [long-term] funding."