From The New York Times
Drug Groups and U.N. Offices Join to Develop Malaria Cures
BYLINE: By Elizabeth Olson
DATELINE: November 18, 1999, Thursday, Late Edition - Final - Geneva
SECTION: Section A; Page 5; Column 3; Foreign Desk
Major drug companies have joined international agencies in an unusual approach
to keep research in antimalarial drugs from ending because of the drugs' poor
Each year 300 million to 500 million people become ill from malaria, and a
million die, mostly in Africa. The problem is getting worse because some
established treatments are becoming less effective.
Although the market is vast, "people who need these drugs can't afford to pay,"
said Richard B. Sykes, chairman of Glaxo Wellcome, which plans to join the
Health Organization and the World Bank in a program called the Medicines for
Malaria Venture. The nonprofit project, with a $30 million yearly budget, plans
to develop and register a new antimalaria drug every five years.
The sum budgeted is only a third of the estimated average $500 million cost of
discovering and marketing a new drug, but industry and public officials fear
that without a new approach, no new antimalaria drugs will come to market.
The joint venture "has been created because the increased costs of developing
and registering pharmaceutical products, coupled with the prospects of
inadequate commercial returns, have resulted in the withdrawal of the majority
of research-based pharmaceutical companies," said the W.H.O. director general,
Gro Harlem Brundtland.
The organization aims to halve the incidence of worldwide malaria by 2010, when
the first drugs developed in the new venture should become available.
Robert Ridley, acting head of the program, said the idea to set up an
independent group grew out of discussions by industry officials on how to keep
drug companies interested in an unprofitable business area. In the joint
venture, the companies will work with academic researchers.
Officials estimate that the cooperation will still require a cash outlay
million for each drug developed, in addition to such in-kind contributions as
access to companies' chemical libraries.
Then, Mr. Ridley said, the industry would have to help make sure that any newly
discovered drugs were made widely available. "You're not going to get a $1
million blockbuster drug, but you can make it so it's not a huge money loser,"
So far, 120 research projects have submitted requests for financing and three
have been selected to receive $4 million through next year. Glaxo Wellcome will
work with Bristol University, SmithKline Beecham with the University of
California and Roche of Switzerland with the University of Nebraska.
In addition to W.H.O. and the World Bank, the International Federation of
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the
Global Forum for Health Research and Swiss and British government agencies are
supporting the project.
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