Friday, August 20, 2004

Malaria bonanza

With perfect timing, the nice folks that publish Nature magazine have decided to make available, for free, a collection of their past articles that focus on malaria.

There have also been quite a few reports in the last few days about the fact that a team of scientists have made what appears to be a breakthrough by synthesizing a new antimalarial drug that's cheaper and easier to make and just as potent as the current best drug, artemisinin. What's a bit confusing about these reports, though, is that two of them [the AP News story, and The Guardian story] say the drug was developed by the Indian company Ranbaxy, whereas none of the others [
in the Scotsman News, in ABC's news in science, and a couple more] mention Ranbaxy; also, the actual paper published in Nature doesn't list any authors affiliated with Ranbaxy.

In any case, what makes this so interesting is that artemisinin, which is currently the last line of defense against drug-resistant malaria [which is very widespread] is so expensive [$2 per dose, as opposed to 10 cents per dose of chloroquine/quinine] that basically no African country can afford it. So, what's been happening is that most African countries have basically had to use drugs against which there is wide-spread resistance, potentially exacerbating the resistance situation even more. This new drug is supposed to be much cheaper to synthesize than artemisinin and be just as effective against drug-resistant strains of malaria, hence the hoopla about it. Let's hope it makes it through clinical trials and out into the real world ...

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