The Novartis Malaria Initiative: lessons from a
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Perhaps the paramount lesson of Coartem is the importance of collaborations. The scale and complexity of the program is too complex to manage alone. Just as we worked with Chinese scientists to develop Coartem, our suppliers Kunming Pharmaceutical Corp. and Zhejiang Medicine Co. played key roles in the manufacturing scale-up and remain critical to our ability to satisfy steadily rising demand. As part of our collaboration, technology transfer allowed them to meet international quality standards in the production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients, and allowed the registration of their facilities by stringent drug regulatory authorities.
To discover the next generation of antimalarial drugs, Novartis has stepped up a joint research program with MMV, Britain’s Welcome Trust, the Development Board of Singapore (EDB). MMV, the Wellcome Trust and EDB will provide funding of about USD 20 million for the new collaboration. The Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD), based in Singapore, will manage the program and conduct research with several institutions including the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation and the Swiss Tropical Institute. In late 2010, the first candidate drug (NITD609) from the research collaboration advanced to the initial phase of testing in humans.
In parallel with testing of NITD609, Novartis scientits have discovered yet another new class of antimalarial compounds; the lead candidate is expected to begin clinical testing as early as 2012. NITD609 completed an initial clinical study during 2011 and will begin a Phase II trial late this year or in 2012. NITD suppresses protein synthesis in malaria parasites and has displayed good antimalarial activity.
In May 2006, Novartis introduced yet another form of collaboration – with representatives of national malaria control programs (NMCPs). Best Practice Sharing workshops hosted by Novartis aim to help these officials on the front lines address the huge challenges malaria poses for public health throughout the African continent. Since the initial meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, workshops have been held biannually, with locations, themes and content varying to reflect topical issues and developments.
Best Practice Sharing workshops provide opportunities to discuss case management, utilization of rapid diagnostic tests, health impact measurement, public awareness campaigns, healthcare workers training and, obviously, forecasting, distribution and stock management. Because national program managers wield a major influence over treatment policy, ideas shared during workshops can be disseminated rapidly across national borders to the benefit of patients and health care workers.
The key role of malaria program managers and healthcare workers in the communities they serve was underscored by Robert D. Newman, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program in a recent interview.
"The daily news of rolling out malaria control programs is invisible. It’s not front page news," Dr. Newman said. "What will really move malaria control forward between now and 2015 is going to be the work by the unsung heroes at the community level and in district health facilities. That’s where the battle will be won or lost, and the WHO’s role is to support that work."