A new treatment for malaria, developed by the Brazilian government and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, or DNDI, promises to be an easy, one-step process for patients. And the lack of a patent on the medication means it will be more easily available in the relatively poor parts of the world where malaria continues to be a scourge, killing one million people per year.
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VOICEOVER: April 25 marks World Malaria Day. At least 300 million cases of malaria are reported annually, resulting in more than 1 million dead. In a significant breakthrough, researchers in Brazil announced a new, cheap, and effective treatment for malaria last week. The medication was developed by the Brazilian government in conjunction with the non-profit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, or DNDI. The drug will not be patented, so it is anticipated it will be more widely accessible than previous anti-malarial treatments. DNDI’s Dr. Bernard Pécoul explained the advantages of this new combination-medicine.
DR. BERNARD PÉCOUL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DNDI: The World Health Organization is recommending to use this combination since, now, more than five years. The problem is the product was quite difficult to use, because you had to take until 28 tablet in three days, which is quite complex when you have malaria—you’re vomiting, you are not in a good shape, and you have to take 28 tablets. So the challenge was to reduce the number of tablets and to be sure that the patient will take the two treatments, because advantage of combination is you increase the efficacy of your treatment, plus you prevent the risk of developing resistance.
VOICEOVER: Speaking to The Real News, Dr. Pécoul further elaborated on the implications of this treatment advance on the health of developing nations.
PÉCOUL: Malaria is still a major public concern. The estimation of number of cases is around 500 million new cases per year, with 1 to 1.5 [million] people dying from malaria every year. So the most affected continent is still Africa, but there’s also major problems in south of America, as well as Asia, with particular problems in southeast Asia, as well as India. Well, if you improve the management of this disease, you have an effect on the community, and you have, probably, an effect on the socio-economical development of society. So we launch artesunate-mefloquine in Brazil. The ministry of health will buy the product [from] the pharmaceutical company and will make the product free of charge in a dispensary, particularly in the Amazonian region. The plan of development has been designed with the partners with an objective to develop something that will be available at cost on one side and without patents, so giving opportunity to all the partners to develop the product. We are expecting that it will be available in the other Latin American countries in a few months. And in parallel we are organizing a transfer of technology to a company in India called Cipla that will be in charge of the distribution of the product in Asia. If we want to make progress in the field of public health, we need to have a combined effort on innovations or inventing new tools, but also in terms of access.
VOICEOVER: This Brazilian model of drug development marks a departure from business as usual. Most drugs available on the market are patent-protected, and flexibility in the production of generic essential medicines is not encouraged by the World Trade Organization. We asked lawyer and public health advocate Richard Elliott if the patent-free Brazilian model can be replicated for other treatments as well.
RICHARD ELLIOTT, LAWYER AND PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCATE: The recent project is a really encouraging sign, and it’s a kind of model that could be replicated elsewhere with the appropriate support. The key thing that has made all of this possible has been not just the commitment of the individuals and the organizations involved, but also the commitment of governments who have provided the critical public funding.
VOICEOVER: Richard Elliott added that he sees no reason why medicines should primarily be developed by private pharmaceutical companies, which he argues are driven by the bottom line, not the public good. He also notes that an alternative, patent-free system of drug development is being hindered by multinational corporations and their backers.
ELLIOTT: The US government has not shown itself to be particularly open to alternatives, and certainly its primary role in forums like the World Trade Organization has been to just go to bat for the brand name, multinational pharmaceutical industry and to insist on the sacrosanct status of the current intellectual property regime.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.