Drug companies to stop single-drug malaria pills

04 Apr 2007
The United Nations agency appealed in January to all 40 producers to stop marketing artemisinin monotherapy pills and redirect production to artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs).

"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 programme.

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.