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Drug Companies Find a Philanthropic Spirit

By Will Schneider on March 7, 2007No Comment

Drug companies are widely known for spending millions of dollars developing drugs for the industrialized world, while virtually ignoring the needs of those in poorer countries.

Last week, the fourth-largest drug company in the world took one giant step towards changing that image. Sanofi-Aventis, a company based in Paris, invented a simple, inexpensive malaria pill for use in developing countries around the world.

Even more impressively, Sanofi-Aventis says that they will sell the the drug, ASAQ, for no-profit, no-loss. The drug will cost less than one dollar for adults, and less than 50 cents for children. In fact, the pharmaceutical giant will not even pursue a patent, which will allow competitors to develop and sell the drug for even less money. This is all being done, according to the company, in the name of saving lives.

Right now, malaria kills more than one million people each year. Most of these victims are children in Africa; some have predicted that one child dies from the disease every thirty seconds.  Although malaria medication has been available for many years, it is expensive, and often requires as many as 8 pills each day. For children, the current dosage can be even more complicated, as the pills need to be divided in half.

ASAQ has simplified the system so that adults take two pills each day, and children take only one; the medicine is needed for just three days. Physicians have found that the easier the treatment is, the more likely people are to see it all the way through.

Sanofi-Aventis is working with a group of non-profits, led by Doctors Without Borders, to develop and distribute this revolutionary drug. The hope is that this partnership will spawn more drugs made for the developing world. 

Ideally, other large drug companies will follow suit. 

Check out these pieces in the New York Times and the Voice of America for more information.

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