Institute for OneWorld Health CEO advocates focus first on developing world markets

05/10/04

Berkeley, Calif. May 11, 2004 New biotech processes are poised to change the economics of manufacturing drugs, creating the potential for delivering both affordable medicines to patients in the developing world and laying the foundation for new markets, according to Victoria Hale, Ph.D., CEO of the Institute for OneWorld Health. The founder of the first nonprofit pharmaceutical company in the U.S. spoke yesterday on a panel, "Synthetic Biology at the Edge" at the 8th International Biotech Summit in Berkeley.

Dr. Hale explained that diseases such as malaria and diarrhea, which are endemic in the developing world, afflict hundreds of millions of people, but affordable medicines are a major barrier to treatment. With advances in biotechnology, industry could achieve humanitarian goals and contribute to strengthening economies that ultimately benefit everyone.

As a step in that direction, malaria medicines will be among the first drugs to be manufactured through an innovative process developed by fellow panelist Jay D. Keasling, Ph.D., Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Keasling's team engineered a biotechnology process to make artemisinin, an anti-malarial compound. It is simpler and less expensive than today's laborious plant harvesting processes. This biotech process could be applied to several other kinds of pharmaceutical compounds which are otherwise expensive to synthesize or costly to extract from natural sources.

"By focusing first on the developing world, especially children, a healthier generation leads to greater prosperity, less dependence on foreign aid, and ultimately, creates new markets," Dr. Hale said. "The dynamics for significant change are underway for the private and public sectors, and business community to achieve mutually inclusive goals. We can all participant in and benefit from addressing global health inequities."

The World Health Organization recommends the particular use of drug combinations containing artemisinin, an ancient Chinese herbal medicine extracted from the wormwood plant. Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) has been shown to be effective in treating malaria, but a treatment costs about $2.50 per cure. For people who live on $1 per day, the choice is between buying either food or medicine. Old anti-malarial drugs cost about a dime but are ineffective.

Every year in Africa, malaria kills about one million people per year, most of them children. Worldwide, about 300 million acute cases of malaria occur annually.

OneWorld Health is developing a program focused on the assessment of the safety and efficacy of anti-malarial drugs for pregnant women in malaria-endemic areas. More information at http://www.oneworldhealth.org/diseases/malaria.php

Source: Eurekalert & others

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