A team of reporters and camera crews packed into the headquarters of the Clinton Foundation on West 125th Street this afternoon to hear the details of former President Bill Clinton’s plan to tinker with the market for malaria drugs “in a way that has positive implications for the pharmaceutical companies,” he said.
Clinton spoke to the crowd about how the organization has applied what it has learned from pooling patients to drive down prices for HIV therapies to the issue of malaria, where it has secured a series of deals at “every level of the production chain” to lower the price and ensure new supply of the world’s most effective anti-malarial agents. The Foundation’s work to reconfigure the market, says Clinton, is important to expanding access, but ensures that there is still enough profit margin to keep manufacturers from taking their investment elsewhere. (Although Clinton did note that he thought deep tax benefits for companies engaged in R&D for neglected diseases was the way forward.)
At the heart of these deals are price ceilings on the price of artemisinin, a crop grown in China, India, and East Africa, which is the key ingredient in new combination-based therapies that have become the WHO-approved gold standard to treat uncomplicated malaria, particularly in Africa where drug resistance to chloroquine has become such a problem. The volatility of the artemisinin crop (Clinton held up the plant to emphasize his point) has resulted in a 700 percent swing in price over the last six years. It is expected that these new compacts will lower the price of ACTs by 30 percent, and encourage even more companies to enter the area because they can better predict supply of artemisinin and demand by patients.
There are several ACT formulations, but Novartis’ Co-Artem (artemether-lumerfantrine) is the hundred-pound gorilla in the area, given that it supplies 85 percent of the global public sector market for ACTs, according to WHO’s Andrea Bosman, MD. Novartis has been attempting to stabilize the price of Co-Artem by taking deep losses when the artemisinin crop is in short supply.
“We never made any money on Co-Artemâ€”we’ve only lost money,” explained Dan Vasella, CEO of Novartis, who was at the press conference in a show of solidarity with several other API and generic manufacturers that are also part of Clinton’s New Deal for malaria. “I only hope that these prices are sustainable,” he added, his excitement no doubt tempered by Novartis’ real experience of stock-outs, shortages, and other on-the-ground knowledge gained from its years supplying the African market with Co-Artem.
This announcement comes on the heels of the Senate’s authorization of a $48 billion package for AIDS, TB, and malaria, which, says Clinton, will allow the foundation’s efforts to go even further, as they will be used as part of a holistic package of malaria prevention and control