WHO Hopes New Malaria Medicine Will Be Ready by 2006

November 28, 2002
Agence France-Presse

Geneva - Top international organizations fighting tropical diseases have signed an agreement with an Asian drug company to develop a "breakthrough" cure for malaria based on a Chinese traditional remedy, the World Health Organization announced Monday.  

The WHO said in a statement that it hoped the pyronadine-artesunate compound would be "an affordable, well-tolerated, efficacious medicine" capable of reversing the growing ineffectiveness of existing drugs against malaria.  

About 1 million people die of the mosquito-borne disease every year and millions more suffer from the debilitating effects of malaria, mainly in Africa and Asia, according to the UN's health agency.  

In recent years the parasite that carries the most deadly form of the disease, plasmodium falciparum, has become increasingly resistant to the current range of anti-malarial drugs.  

"It is hoped the medicine will cure acute malaria in all patients in all countries affected by plasmodium falciparum, and that, although the final price is not known, the combination will be affordable to malaria-endemic countries," the WHO said.  

It described the combination drug as "a breakthrough in malaria treatment."  

The drug, developed with South Korean-based Shin Poong pharmaceuticals, combines artesunate, derived from the sweet wormwood plant, with pyronaradine, a newer anti-malarial which was first developed in China.  

Artesunate is one type of a compound whose anti-malarial effects were first discovered centuries ago in China, the WHO said. 

The WHO expects phase one clinical studies of the compound to begin in the second quarter of next year, with approval of the new combination in 2006 if its trials show it is safe and effective.  

The partners involved are the WHO, World Bank and UN Development Program, as well as a private-public partnership, Medicines for Malaria Venture.  

Malaria killed more than 400 people in Cambodia in 2001. The National Malaria Center, with support from the WHO and the EC, currently uses a drug combination of artesunate and mefloquine to treat the malaria parasite, which has developed a resistance to other drugs here. Improper regimens and fake or outdated drugs have contributed to the resistance.  

With the use of new drug combinations and the distribution of bed and hammock nets, Cambodia has seen a steady decline in the number of malaria deaths over the past several years. (Additional reporting by The Cambodia Daily)