Novartis cuts price of malaria drug by a third

Staff Writers | 29 Sep 2006

Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG said it had cut the price of its Coartem malaria drug by more than a third, subsidising efforts to fight the disease which kills more than a million people every year.

Coartem -- made from a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine -- would now cost around $1 per treatment, the company said on Friday, adding it had boosted production and was ready to deliver 50 million treatments by the end of October.

Novartis has provided the life-saving drug at no profit since 2001 in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, helping to stem the mosquito-born disease that kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds.

The WHO called on Novartis to ramp up production of Coartem in 2005 and to get ready to provide over 100 million courses of the drug in 2006, as resistance to older treatments such as chloroquine increases.

But the company has been lamenting the current system for getting malaria drugs to African patients, saying it risked sitting on a big unsold stockpile if orders from governments on the continent did not go up.

There is no lack of money to buy the drug in Africa thanks to finance from the U.N.-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Novartis, which says its combination malaria treatment has a cure rate of above 95 percent with very few side-effects, said it was ready to produce up to 100 million Coartem treatments each year.

Coartem is a so-called artemisinin combination therapy

(ACT), based on artemether, a derivative of artemisinin which is derived from the sweet wormwood shrub -- or Artemisia annua -- traditionally grown in China as a fever cure.

It is indicated for the treatment of acute uncomplicated falciparum malaria, the most dangerous form of the disease.