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MSF welcomes new fixed-dose combination against malaria

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Rio de Janeiro - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes the launch in Brazil of a new drug against P. Falciparum, the most dangerous type of malaria. Developed by DNDi (Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative) in partnership with Farmanguinhos/Fiocruz, ASMQ is the first drug against malaria that combines artesunate (AS) and mefloquine (MQ) in one fixed dose.

ASMQ is an important additional tool for better treatment for a disease that continues to kill over one million people each year globally, and kills a child every 30 seconds. In 2006, MSF treated 1.8 million people for malaria in its projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

By combining two active pharmaceutical ingredients in one single pill, ASMQ greatly improves the treatment against malaria both for adults and children. Advantages include multiple paediatric formulations, a reduced pill count, only three days of treatment, an at-cost price, and durability in hot climates, with no need for refrigeration. Caused by four species of the parasite Plasmodium, malaria is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and is usually found in poor or rural communities. Most victims are children under five years of age.

One million cases of malaria are recorded in Latin America (25 percent for P. Falciparum, the great majority in Brazil) and three million cases in Asia each year. The drug is now registered in Brazil and is expected to be widely used in Latin America and Asia.

Founded in 2003 by MSF and the Pasteur Institute, along with four other public research institutions, DNDi focuses on research and development of new and more efficient treatments for neglected diseases such as malaria, Chagas, kala azar and sleeping sickness. ASMQ is the second malaria drug developed by DNDi. In March 2007, ASAQ, a drug that combines artesunate and amodiaquine in one fixed dose, was launched for use primarily in Africa where it is most effective.

Crucially, ASMQ was developed in the public sector, will not be patented and therefore can be available as a low cost generic immediately. The non-profit development of medicines, vaccines and diagnostics that address the health needs of people in developing countries is a critical step forward in the effort to rethink today's research and development (R&D) system, which is currently based predominantly on the patent system. It is crucial to find ways to de-link the price of medicines from the cost of R&D.

Governments meeting in ten days for important negotiations at the World Health Organization will consider further alternative R&D models addressing this link, and that can encourage the development of medicines that respond to the needs, and are priced within the reach, of patients and governments in developing countries.