New malaria pill could boost global fight

Scientists have developed a new cheap and convenient malaria pill that could boost the success of the fight against the disease, which kills nearly two million people a year in poor countries, experts said on Thursday.

Between 350-million and 500-million people get sick with malaria every year, the World Health Organisation estimates. Several treatments exist, but in recent decades the drugs have become increasingly ineffective as the parasite has evolved to outsmart them. Drug resistance is one of the main challenges frustrating the effort to fight malaria.

Part of the reason the parasite has been able to become resistant to medication is because there are so many pills to take that patients often don’t complete the course of treatment properly.

Not completing the therapy also leaves many patients uncured and, therefore, vulnerable to recurrences of the disease, which sometimes can be deadly.

The new pill, which is expected to become available next year, cuts the number of pills down from eight a day to two.

“It seems to be a simple thing just to put two drugs together in one pill, but it really is an important step forward because it makes it much easier for people to take,” said Dr Allan Schapira, coordinator of the malaria strategy and policy team at the World Health Organisation.
“It’s very good news. It could have a major impact on the effectiveness of treatment.”

Developed by pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis in partnership with the foundation Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, the pill combines a classic malaria drug amodiaquine with a newer medicine containing artemisinin, which comes from a Chinese plant.

There are four main classic malaria drugs used around the world.

Health authorities use different ones depending on how well each works against the disease in their country. While malaria circulating in one country may have become resistant to one of the drugs, it may be cured by another.

For the last three years, the World Health Organisation has recommended using those classic medications together with an artemisinin-based newer drug.

The new pill would be appropriate for about 100-million of the malaria cases that occur each year, and perhaps more, Schapira said.

The drug, which would be most effective in parts of Africa and Indonesia, will cost less than $1 per three-day treatment for an adult, the medication’s developers said. That compares with $1,50 today for treatment with the separate pills.

There is already a combination tablet for malaria, using another of the four classic malaria drugs—lumefantrine. However, that therapy still involves taking eight pills a day and is more than twice as expensive as the new combination pill.

The tablet will be the first project completed by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a foundation set up two years ago to push forward with the development of medicine for diseases that are neglected because they affect mostly poor people who could not afford to pay for drugs.—Sapa-AP

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