Sanofi extended its collaboration with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to jointly develop a new combination therapy against malaria, the deadliest parasitic disease worldwide. The difficult access and the fear of a growing resistance to the existing treatments highlight the importance of this partnership.

Atemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT) are at this moment the most efficient and tolerable antimalarial treatment. However, the increasing resistance to ACT that has developed over the years in Southeast Asia is raising all sorts of concerns. This trend could spread to Africa, where about 90% of the estimated 584,000 annual deaths occur from malaria. This scary horizon is pushing companies to rush for a malaria-treatment hunt.

Sanofi was the first to master the complex process to produce semisynthetic artemisinin in 2013, pushing the treatment to a new dimension. Now, the French company needs to search for alternative ways. The collaboration with MMV started in 2011. Today, both are proud to introduce two potential treatments, OZ439/Piperaquine and OZ439/Ferroquine, as alternatives to ACT solutions. Both candidates are single, fixed-dose combination therapies independent of artemisin. The first is already in Phase IIb, whereas the second will soon level with the former.

Many malaria deaths are based on the lack of access to an effective treatment and patient’s irregular drug intake. The new antimalarial combination therapies could change all this, as they would only need to be taken once, and therefore, represent a crucial improvement in management, as ACT therapies must be taken for a period of 3 days.

There are also other approaches to Sanofi-MMV’s collaboration, but these are trailing far behind the French and Swiss candidates. The German drug-maker Merck KGaA picked up a promising antimalarial drug last month from Scottish scientists, but it remains at a preclinical stage. The researchers reported in Nature optimistic preclinical results of a single-dose candidate with the potential of treating malaria, preventing its spread from infected to healthy people, and protecting individuals from developing the disease in the first place. The odds of succesfully bringing a candidate from preclinical to patients in need are very unlikely, but the urgent necessity of a treatment for malaria has impulsed Merck to acquire the rights on this potential solution.

According to WHO, in 2013, there were 198 million cases of malaria leading to 584 000 deaths. Add the growing resistance to actual treatments to these figures, you clearly understand the worldwide priority to find new cures for this worrying infectious disease.

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