Novartis has reduced the price of its antimalarial drug Coartem, potentially boosting supplies to developing countries


Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Novartis has announced it will reduce by one fifth the price it charges governments and NGOs for artemisinin-based antimalarial Coartem. The company already supplies the drug to such bodies at cost price - and says that efficiency improvements at its production plants in China and the US mean it can now make the drug more cheaply. The price cut takes effect today, on 25 April - the first World Malaria Day. 

’This is a big gain for the international donor community and NGOs,’ says Jan Van Erps, commodity services coordinator at the Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland. ’They can now buy 25 per cent more drugs with the same limited resources.’   

RBM was established in 1998 to coordinate the malaria-fighting efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank. 

A new hope

The price reduction could also directly benefit those people in Africa, India and Latin America who buy their own malaria medicines - estimated at more than 70 per cent of the total population across those regions.   

The relatively high cost of Coartem and related artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) means that these drugs account for only 10 per cent of privately-sold malaria drugs. The remaining 90 per cent are chloroquine, essentially ineffective against deadly forms of malaria due to resistance built up by the parasite. 

’We want to allow all private wholesalers to buy all ACTs at 5 cents per treatment - the same as what you pay for chloroquine,’ says Van Erps. ’This is the only way to get ACT antimalarials replacing chloroquine.’ 

This will be the aim of the RBM’s Affordable Medicines Facility for Malaria (AMFm) project, due to launch in 2009. Twenty-three pilot schemes are being set up within the next month, and drug makers like Novartis have agreed to provide their drugs for the project at public sector costs. 

’A project of this type has never been done before - for any drug or any disease in the third world,’ adds Van Erps. 

James Mitchell Crow 

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