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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gates Foundation pours $115 million into new malaria drugs

By Sandi Doughton

Health experts around the globe were chilled earlier this year by the discovery that malaria in Cambodia has evolved resistance to the most promising drug in medicine's arsenal.

With the effectiveness of artemisinin under threat, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is stepping up its investment in new malaria drugs with a $115 million grant to the Geneva-based Medicines for Malaria Venture. The grant brings the foundation's total funding for the group to $317 million.

Malaria has long been a top priority for the Gateses, who in 2007 took the controversial step of calling for eradication of the disease. Many experts question whether that will ever be possible, but foundation CEO Jeff Raikes recently said the world's biggest philanthropy is refocusing its malaria programs with the goal of eradication in mind.

The "E-word," which some malaria scientists utter with trepidation based on past failures, is repeated three times in MMV's four-paragraph press release on the new grant.

In February, MMV and drugmaker Novartis introduced a sweet-tasting version of the combination malaria drug Coartem for African children. The group is funding work on more than 50 drug candidates, ten of which are in clinical development.

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