Brazil on Thursday announced the launch of a new single, fixed-dose artemisinin-based combination therapy that could provide an effective, low-cost way to treat malaria, the AP/Google.com reports. The new drug is a combination of artesunate and mefloquine, which is one of the four combination treatments that the World Health Organization recommends for malaria.
The country's state-run drug maker Farmanguinhos has been working with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative to bring the new medicine, known as ASMQ, to commercial markets at a target price of $2.50 for a full-dose, adult treatment. The Brazilian government plans to distribute the drug at no cost. The drug will be released in Latin America and Southeast Asia throughout 2008 and 2009, Reuters reports. Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla is expected to supply the drug to Asian markets. According to DNDI, about three million new malaria cases are reported in Southeast Asia annually. In Latin America, one million new cases are reported each year.
One of the main benefits of the drug is that it reduces the number of tablets people need to take, according to the AP/Google.com. "Now they only need take one to two tablets a day for three days," Bernard Pecoul, executive director of DNDI, said. A fixed-dose combination drug also could promote better adherence to treatment, according to Keith Carter, a regional malaria adviser at the Pan American Health Organization. Pecoul said that the drug's developers will not try to patent ASMQ because they hope to reduce the cost of treating malaria. The drug will not be as inexpensive as the ACT artesunate and amodiaquine, which is used in Africa and sells for about $1, Reuters reports.
According to Pecoul, a field study involving 17,000 people who took the drug in Brazil's Amazon state of Acre showed that the number of malaria cases decreased by 70% over one year. The number of people hospitalized with malaria in the Brazilian region decreased from 2,500 to 500 within one year, Carlos Morel, director of Brazil's Center for Developing Medical Technology at Farmanguinhos, said. A similar study in the Peruvian Amazon, where the two drugs were used in separate doses, showed that malaria cases decreased by 50%.
Pecoul said that DNDI is supporting a study in Tanzania to determine if ASMQ could be used successfully in Africa. He said that "artesunate and mefloquine could play a role in places where there is multi-drug resistance, where there is resistance to several drugs and where the first-line treatment or efficacy could be limited." He said he thinks it might have a role in East Africa, where "resistance is quite high".
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation