German Merck aims to role
out child formula for schistosomiasis drug
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[April 18, 2017] By
GENEVA (Reuters) - Merck KGaA said it is
developing a children's formula of its drug to treat schistosomiasis, a
parasitic worm disease that infects millions of poor people in Africa
Schistosomiasis kills 280,000 people each year in Africa alone, the
German drugmaker said on Tuesday. It can cause anemia, diarrhea,
bladder cancer, slow cognitive development, as well as infertility
problems in females.
The company said it has donated 500 million tablets of praziquantel
to the World Health Organisation (WHO) over the last 10 years for
use in 39 African countries, primarily targeting children who catch
the disease in contaminated rivers and lakes.
But the pill is large, bitter and difficult for children to swallow,
Belen Garijo, CEO of healthcare at Merck KGaA, told reporters in
Geneva. The new formula will be sweeter.
"We have learned that we need to customize the formulation of
praziquantel to the patients that we want to treat. This is why we
are developing a children user-friendly formulation that we expect
to bring to the market in the next couple of years."
"We are actually very close to filing because we are aiming to file
in early 2019," Garijo said. "We will be filing in as many countries
as possible in Africa. We don't anticipate any major challenges in
production so we will scale up as quickly as we can in order to be
able to put a sweetened formulation in front of the pediatric
Merck's initial commitment 10 years ago to donate 25 million tablets
a year from its plant in Mexico has grown ten-fold. Its annual
donation has a value of around $30 million, she said.
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"Now we have stepped up to 250 million tablets per year ... We
believe that with the tablets we are donating we can treat
approximately 100 million patients a year. This is going to last
Garijo was among senior pharmaceutical executives due to meet Bill
Gates privately in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss stepping up the
industry's contribution to fighting 18 neglected tropical diseases
known as NTDs. The WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will
host a meeting on Wednesday.
Since a key 2012 meeting in London, NTD medicines have been provided
at a cost of less than $0.50 per person per year through drug
companies and partnerships, for an estimated value of $2 billion to
$3 billion a year, WHO director-general Margaret Chan wrote in the
Financial Times on Tuesday.
"The tide is turning," she said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Susan Fenton)
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