May 11, 2006

Drug companies to stop single-drug malaria pills

GENEVA (Reuters) - Thirteen drug companies have agreed to
phase out single-drug artemisinin medicines for treating
malaria, blamed for speeding resistance in parasites, the World
Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

The United Nations agency appealed in January to all 40
producers to stop marketing artemisinin monotherapy pills and
redirect production to artemisinin combination therapies

"This group (of 13) includes the main producers of
high-quality artemisinin monotherapies. The companies will now
focus their marketing efforts for malaria primarily on ACTs, in
line with WHO recommendations," the WHO said in a statement.

The 13 companies include Sanofi-Aventis of France and
India's Cipla Ltd, according to Andrea Bosman, a medical
officer at WHO's malaria program.

Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, kills
at least one million people every year and makes 300 million
people seriously ill. Ninety percent of deaths are in Africa
south of the Sahara, according to the Geneva-based WHO.

Using a single-drug artemisinin treatment, or monotherapy,
especially for the treatment of uncomplicated malaria, hastens
development of resistance to artemisinin in malaria parasites,
it says.

"Monotherapy was putting a whole class of products at risk
of resistance," Bosman told Reuters.

"If we lose ACTs, we won't have an alternate, efficient
medicine for the next 10 years, until there is a new generation
of drugs," he added.

Some 60 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have
adopted a policy to use ACTs, but only half of them have had
the funds to actually procure the drugs, according to Bosman.

When used correctly in combination with other anti-malarial
drugs in ACTs, artemisinin is nearly 95 percent effective in
curing uncomplicated malaria and the parasite is highly
unlikely to become drug resistant, the WHO said.