Published: Friday 31 December 1999

Major drug companies have joined the World Bank (WB) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to keep research in anti-malarial drugs from winding up because of the drugs' poor commercial potential. Each year 300 million to 500 million people fall prey to malaria, and a million die, mostly in Africa.

The problem is getting worse because some established treatments are becoming less effective. The joint venture "has been created because costs for developing and registering pharmaceutical products are increasing. This has resulted in the withdrawal of the majority of research-based pharmaceutical companies," said WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland.

Although the potential of the market is vast, "people who need these drugs cannot afford to pay," said Richard B Sykes, chairman of Glaxo Wellcome. The company plans to join the WHO and the WB in a programme called the Medicines for Malaria Venture. This non-profit project, with a us $30-million yearly budget, plans to develop and register a new anti-malarial drug every five years.

The budget is only a third of the estimated average us $500 million cost of discovering and marketing a new drug, but industry and public officials fear that without a new approach, no new anti-malaria drugs will come to market. The organisation aims to halve the incidence of worldwide malaria by 2010, when the first drugs developed in the new venture should become available.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.