25 March 2020 | Statements

Long-acting medicines meet vector control in new Unitaid-backed malaria initiative

Unitaid and the French medicines technology company MedinCell have signed an agreement to create a long-acting injectable version of the drug ivermectin to fight malaria transmission, building on a rich portfolio of Unitaid investments aimed at ending the disease.

The three-year, US$ 6.3 million IMPACT initiative will wed two exciting areas in global health innovation—long-acting medicines and novel vector control methods—to disrupt and cripple the mosquito populations that spread malaria.

“Our goal is to kill the Anopheles mosquitoes which carry and transmit the malaria parasite, after they have bitten treated populations. In doing so we could break the chain of transmission,” said MedinCell’s Chief Technology Officer Christophe Roberge. “A single injection of three-month active ivermectin will allow us to remove some of the logistical barriers that limit the mass adoption of shorter-acting treatments, mostly oral, which require numerous renewal campaigns.”

Malaria kills more than 400,000 people a year.

Ivermectin is an antiparasitic drug that can kill mosquitoes when they bite people or livestock treated with it. A long-acting injection would replace pills that have to be taken more frequently. Long-acting formulations are expected to improve adherence to medicines and lead to more successful treatments and prevention.

“Malaria cannot be eliminated without new tools and strategies. The latest WHO World Malaria Report made that very clear,” Unitaid Executive Director a.i. Philippe Duneton said. “Unitaid is investing in innovations with the greatest potential to reduce the global burden of the disease. The emerging technologies we’re seeing in long-acting medicines offer us new ways to strengthen and broaden our toolkit.”

IMPACT is the third project on long-acting medicines that Unitaid has embarked upon this year.  In January, Unitaid invested US$ 39 million in long-acting medicines to simplify treatment and prevention for HIV, TB, malaria and hepatitis C. That work is being led by the University of Liverpool and the University of Washington.

IMPACT will be Unitaid’s second venture into the use of ivermectin in vector control. In 2019, Unitaid began a collaboration with ISGlobal—the BOHEMIA project—to evaluate the impact of largescale distribution of the drug in Tanzania and Mozambique.

The ivermectin projects complement anti-malaria initiatives Unitaid already supports, including insecticide-treated bed nets, long-lasting indoor insecticide sprays, and better medicines for treatment and prevention.

Unitaid has actively expanded its malaria portfolio, which has tripled in value since the beginning of 2017 and now stands at about US$ 400 million. As part of that expansion, Unitaid is intensifying its initiatives for pregnant women, infants and children, where malaria illness and death is most concentrated.

Unitaid’s NgenIRS project, led by IVCC, wraps up this year after reviving long-lasting indoor insecticide spraying with affordable new-generation sprays, an important prevention tool that stands to benefit millions of people across Africa. Meanwhile, Unitaid’s ACCESS-SMC project with Malaria Consortium continues to reap benefits as more and more countries adopt the seasonal malaria treatment for small children. The treatment is expected to avert 18 million cases of malaria and save 100,000 lives a year.

For more information: Carol MASCIOLA, masciolac@unitaid.who.int

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