MMV recognizes partner Novartis’ milestone of 1 billion courses of antimalarial delivered

Milestone includes delivery of 430 million pediatric treatments since 1999.

18 May 2021

MMV's partner Novartis announced today that it has delivered one billion courses of antimalarial treatment. More than 90% of this artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) was supplied without profit to malaria-endemic countries around the globe.

ACTs are the standard of care for the treatment of P. falciparum malaria, the most deadly form of the disease, responsible for over 99% of cases in Africa and half of cases in Asia. Since the turn of the century, ACTs have transformed malaria treatment and contributed to the dramatic reduction in malaria deaths.

Working with Chinese partners, Novartis launched the first fixed-dose ACT (artemether-lumefantrine) in 1999. Artemisinin is a natural compound found in the plant Artemisia annua, or sweet wormwood, and has shown to clear malaria parasites in the blood. ACTs combine an artemisinin derivative with a partner drug to reduce the risk of resistance if artemisinin is given alone.

Adoption of ACTs as first-line treatment by the World Health Organization (WHO) has been critical to the global malaria response. Since 2000, the WHO estimates that 1.5 billion malaria cases have been averted and 7.6 million lives saved. Along with malaria prevention tools and better diagnostics, ACTs remain a key component of the global drive to reach malaria elimination.

In 2001, two years after the launch of its ACT, Novartis signed an agreement with the WHO, committing to make the antimalarial available without profit to the public sector of malaria-endemic countries. Although the agreement expired in 2011, Novartis continues to provide treatments on the same terms as before.

“This is a landmark moment in the fight against malaria. Over the last 20 years, Novartis has delivered one billion treatments in more than 70 countries,” said Dr Lutz Hegemann, Group Head, Corporate Affairs and Global Health, Novartis. “We could not have achieved this milestone without the support of our global partners and those we work with on the ground in endemic countries.”

“The one billion milestone is a breathtaking success for global health," said Dr David Reddy, CEO of MMV. The delivery of these medicines has been instrumental in reducing the severity of infections and ultimately in reducing deaths from those with malaria. Most importantly, 430 million of the total treatment courses delivered are the paediatric formulation, that MMV was fortunate enough to have co-developed with Novartis. The formulation is taken by children, including those under 5 years of age who are most at risk of dying from malaria. These medicines have had a major impact over the last years and continue to do so. Novartis and all of those involved should be truly proud.”

Children bear a significant burden of malaria disease and death. This led Novartis and Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to partner on the development of the first dispersible ACT formulated specifically for children. Of the 1 billion treatments delivered, more than 430 million are the pediatric formulation launched in 2009. This pediatric treatment has contributed to a significant reduction in malaria deaths in children: in 2010, a child died every 30 seconds from malaria and now it is estimated that a child dies every two minutes. Although this is a massive improvement, there is still a long way to go.

Novartis continues to spearhead the use of ACTs to treat malaria. The company is now testing a new ACT formulation for infants weighing less than five kilograms in collaboration with the PAMAfrica research consortium led by MMV. This is one of the most vulnerable groups affected by malaria, for whom there is currently no approved treatment.

Over the last few years, worrying signs have been observed of emerging drug resistance to ACTs in South East Asia, and more recently in Africa. If widespread resistance to ACTs occurs, particularly in Africa, new effective treatments will be urgently needed. In 2018, Novartis committed to invest more than USD 100 million over five years to further advance research and development of next-generation treatments.