Glaxo Offers Free Access to Potential Malaria Cure

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Drug giant Glaxo is offering free access to thousands of potential drugs that may cure malaria, a disease that causes the death of nearly 1 million people every year, most of them among children younger than five years of age.

Andrew Witty, the British head of Glaxo-SmithKline, announced that the company will publish the details of 13,500 chemical compounds that have the potential to fight the parasite that causes malaria. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria occurs in 109 countries and affects an estimated 190 to 330 million people. The disease is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur.

The impact of malaria is far-reaching. Even when children survive malaria, repeated episodes of fever and anemia affect their mental and physical development, impairing their education and growth. Especially vulnerable are pregnant women and their unborn children. Malaria infection in mothers may lead to anemia, and the presence of parasites in the placenta contributes to low birth weight, a leading cause of impaired development and infant deaths.

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To prepare the information for free distribution, it took five investigators one year to screen the two million compounds in the Glaxo SmithKline library. In the Guardian, Witty he is quoted as planning to say multinational drug companies have an “imperative to earn the trust of society, not just meeting expectations but by exceeding them.” Witty will also announced that a $8 million fund will be provided to pay for scientists to explore the chemicals or others at its research facility in Tres Cantos, Spain.

The offer by Glaxo is being watched by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Oxfam International, a confederation of 14 like-minded organizations that work together to provide assistance to the needy, including working to fight malaria and other diseases. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is also interested in the announcement. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of Medecins sans Frontieres’ campaign for essential medicine, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that “The fact that they are opening up their compounds for malaria is a good step. It would be good if other companies would do the same thing, and for other diseases.”

Witty is of the same mind. He is quoted in the Guardian as noting that “Given that there is only a handful of big companies who focus on malaria, this is a chance to get thousands of researchers involved.” Nearly one year ago, Witty invited other drug companies to also put their patents into a pool of neglected diseases like malaria so any scientists could investigate them. So far, no other companies have accepted his challenge. After the Glaxo announcement today, perhaps that will change.

SOURCES:
The Guardian, Jan. 20, 2010
Medecins Sans Frontieres
Oxfam International
The World Health Organization

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