Unlikely bedfellows produce cheap malaria pill

In a novel new initiative, Sanofi-Aventis, the fourth largest drugmaker in the world, teamed up with the Medicins Sans Frontières’ Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative to produce a cheap malaria pill. The collaboration began in 2003, and the first result, which will be available next month in 11 African countries with others around the world to follow, ...

603609_mosquito25.jpg
603609_mosquito25.jpg

In a novel new initiative, Sanofi-Aventis, the fourth largest drugmaker in the world, teamed up with the Medicins Sans Frontières' Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative to produce a cheap malaria pill. The collaboration began in 2003, and the first result, which will be available next month in 11 African countries with others around the world to follow, is a medicine called ASAQ. The drug will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children. ASAQ combines artesunate with an an older antimalarial drug. As FP reported last year, malaria is said to kill a child every 30 seconds. The disease kills at least 1 million people every year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and simply taking cheap pills like ASAQ combined with sleeping under mosquito nets can reduce the incidence of malaria by 97 percent.

The French drugmaker will not only sell the drug at cost price to international health agencies, but is also not seeking to patent the medicine so that generic companies will be able to produce cheap versions of the drug to maximize access. This type of partnership between big "pharma" and non-profits such as MSF are rare, but will hopefully put pressure on other major companies to follow suit. Such relationships won't be easy. But as Dr. Robert Sebbag, the vice president for access to medicines at Sanofi acknowledges,

This was not a love wedding - it was a reasonable wedding... But reasonableness is often more important for a long term marriage. They've seen we are not nasty people working against poor countries and seeking only profits."

In a novel new initiative, Sanofi-Aventis, the fourth largest drugmaker in the world, teamed up with the Medicins Sans Frontières’ Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative to produce a cheap malaria pill. The collaboration began in 2003, and the first result, which will be available next month in 11 African countries with others around the world to follow, is a medicine called ASAQ. The drug will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children. ASAQ combines artesunate with an an older antimalarial drug. As FP reported last year, malaria is said to kill a child every 30 seconds. The disease kills at least 1 million people every year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and simply taking cheap pills like ASAQ combined with sleeping under mosquito nets can reduce the incidence of malaria by 97 percent.

The French drugmaker will not only sell the drug at cost price to international health agencies, but is also not seeking to patent the medicine so that generic companies will be able to produce cheap versions of the drug to maximize access. This type of partnership between big “pharma” and non-profits such as MSF are rare, but will hopefully put pressure on other major companies to follow suit. Such relationships won’t be easy. But as Dr. Robert Sebbag, the vice president for access to medicines at Sanofi acknowledges,

This was not a love wedding – it was a reasonable wedding… But reasonableness is often more important for a long term marriage. They’ve seen we are not nasty people working against poor countries and seeking only profits.”

Prerna Mankad is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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