SA develops new malaria drug

Between 300 million and 500 million cases of malaria are recorded every year worldwide, with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for between 80-90 percent of the cases. As many as 1,5 million to 2,7 million people succumb to malaria annually. The drug developed by the South African scientists treats malaria by using extracts from an indigenous plant of the Asteraceae family. The country’s Medical Research Council (MRC) said tests had shown “promising results,” indicating that the drug could eradicate the malaria infection from the bloodstream. The MRC was now seeking a partner to commercialise the drug, the MRC’s director of indigenous knowledge systems, Gilbert Matsabisa, told a South African financial daily, Business Report. Matsabisa said the plant was indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa and was concentrated in central South Africa up to Zimbabwe and Zambia, but he would not divulge the name of the plant. The MRC stumbled upon the plant’s use as a treatment for malaria through “pure serendipity.” It was traditionally used as a remedy for stomach ailments. Matsabisa said they intended to develop a drug that is “accessible and affordable” to treat the malaria problems of sub- Saharan Africa and other developing countries. The MRC intended to retain the intellectual property of the new drug in South Africa and develop it on its own soil. The Asteraceae family has more than 25 000 species worldwide with more than 2 300 species in southern Africa. It is commonly known as the aster, daisy or sunflower family. Well-known medicinal plants in this family include the African wormwood and the wild camphor bush. Meanwhile, the World Bank has provided US$208 000 for Zambia to study the public spending on combating malaria, Zambian Health Minister Sylvia Masebo has said. The minister said the study would improve transparency and accountability in managing health sector resources and help reduce the occurrence of the epidemic, which is caused by microscopic parasites that are transmitted from person to person by female anopheline mosquitoes. The disease is widespread mainly in poor tropical areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Masebo said: “Malaria is a leading cause of illness and death in this country despite it being completely curable and preventable.” In another development, Masebo said local drug manufacturers have the capacity to supply drugs that Zambia continued to import. She noted that the current system of bidding to supply drugs was disadvantaging the local industry because the locally produced drugs were not listed in preference to imported ones, thereby creating artificial shortages of the commodity. The minister made the remarks in Lusaka after touring Pharmanova Zambia Limited, a local drug manufacturing company. She said the government was contemplating raising the 15 percent bidding preference to 20 percent to enable local drug manufacturers to compete with international companies and create employment for the locals. “There is no need to import drugs with companies like Pharmanova in place. The package is good and the price is 30 percent less than imported products,” she told journalists. Pharmanova is the pharmaceutical manufacturing arm of a diversified group, with investments in plastic manufacturing, petroleum, pharmaceutical manufacturing, engineering, agriculture, trading and financial and management services in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The Group assets are valued at US$15 million, while its turnover stands at US$40 million. The company’s leading brands of Panado and Cafemol have a market share of around 90 percent of the Paracetamol and Aspirin retail market. Masebo said the move was in line with Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa’s Triangle of Hope, launched last year, that ensures each ministry supported local manufactures. She was impressed with the quality of equipment and wondered why Zambia had continued to import drugs that could be produced locally. Group chairman, Mohmed Seedat, disclosed in an interview that under its expansion programme, the company was likely to pump between US$4 million to US$5 million into the injectable drug plant this year in collaboration with some Malaysian companies. He said the firm invented five new products and manufactured 60 000 bottles per month, of Novacare hand and body lotion, among others. For effective planning, Seedat said the company had a policy to store raw materials for drugs for six months to cover shortages that might arise as a result of supply and demand in the course of a trading year. He appealed to the government to help in securing raw materials from donor countries, to create employment for the locals as most of the materials came from India, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

April 2006
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