Glaxo, Novartis Join $4 Billion Gates-Led Push to Fight Malaria
GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Novartis AG will contribute research funds to an almost $4 billion global effort to combat malaria as drug-resistant strains of the disease threaten to undo years of progress.
The commitments are part of a wide-ranging initiative, led by a pledge of $1 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to quell the insect-borne disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year.
Glaxo, the U.K.’s largest drugmaker, is investing an additional $250 million, while Switzerland’s Novartis will allocate more than $100 million, the companies said before a meeting Wednesday in London.
Urgency is rising as malaria cases grew significantly in 2016 for the first time in a decade, according to the World Health Organization. Emerging resistance to drugs and insecticides is making efforts to eliminate the disease more difficult, and some regions are experiencing a resurgence.
Certain variants of the lethal parasite called Plasmodium falciparum can evade artemisinin, the most potent medicine available.
These resistant strains have been detected in five Asian countries and risk taking hold in Africa, according to Novartis, which makes a version of the drug. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has said that it would be a “disaster” if a mutant form of the parasite moved beyond Southeast Asia to Africa, where most malaria deaths occur.
Novartis and the Medicines for Malaria Venture are pushing to develop an alternative to artemisinin and began testing a new anti-malaria pill in Africa last year.
Pilot projects for the first vaccine — developed by Glaxo and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative — are due to begin in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi later this year. The experimental vaccine has been in research and development for about four decades, and the projects will take five years to complete, according to Glaxo.
“Malaria is still killing so many children, and the challenge has always been out there to find something which could potentially eradicate it,” Luc Debruyne, Glaxo’s global vaccines president, said in an interview. The vaccine is “a very important first step.”
The broader battle will depend on advances in science and technology, including gene editing, Gates has said.
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