LONDON Brazil launched a new treatment for malaria on Thursday, marking the latest step in a global program to make cheap two-in-one pills available to millions at risk from the mosquito-borne killer.
The country's state-run drugmaker Farmanguinhos is working with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), a non-profit group based in Geneva, to bring the medicine to market at a target price of $2.50 for a full adult treatment.
The Brazilian market is just the first stop.
The fixed-dose combination, known as ASMQ, will be made available to children and adults throughout Latin America and southeast Asia over the course of 2008 and 2009, with India's Cipla Ltd supplying the Asian market.
The drug is not protected by any patents and will be sold at cost by the suppliers, both of which have a track record of bringing cheap generic AIDS medicines to market.
Jean Rene Kiechel, the project's manager, told Reuters the medicine would be cheaper and more effective than existing therapy. He estimated it could treat between 2 million and 3 million patients in the next three years.
ASMQ belongs to a new generation of artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACT drugs, which are recommended by the World Health Organization because of growing resistance to older treatments such as chloroquine.
Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, kills more than 1 million people a year worldwide, with Africa the continent hardest hit.
DNDi, working with Sanofi-Aventis SA, launched its first combination treatment for Africa last year but that medicine is ill-suited to fighting malaria in Latin America and Southeast Asia, where there are different resistance problems.
ASMQ combines artesunate, a derivative of artemisinin, with another antimalarial drug, mefloquine.
These drugs are already given widely to treat cases of malaria in Latin America and southeast Asia but the combined price of buying them separately is between $4 and $7.
"This will be much better in terms of cost," Kiechel said.
It also simplifies treatment, with patients taking a single daily dose of one or two tablets for three days, depending on their age, which ensures the two component drugs are taken together and in the correct proportion.
ASMQ will not be as cheap as the combination drug used in Africa, which mixes artesunate and amodiaquine and sells for around $1. Kiechel said this reflected the particularly complex production process for mefloquine.
(Editing by Paul Bolding)