Viagra at 10 – what of malaria drugs?

National Public Radio reported this morning that Viagra, Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction drug, has now been on the market for ten years, NPR explained that, “In Viagra’s first month on the market, doctors wrote more than 500,000 prescriptions. Former presidential candidate Bob Dole once plugged the pill in TV commercials. The drug has been a long-term boost for Pfizer’s profits. Last year, it brought the pharmaceutical giant more than $1.7 billion.”

Nearly a year ago, NPR also reported that, “The male impotence drug Viagra may have a new use. It could be helpful in battling jet lag. A scientific journal carried that finding. Scientists came up with it after feeding Viagra to hamsters. The hamsters then had the lights turned off and on in ways that simulate jet lag. The hamsters on Viagra recovered from jet lag up to fifty-percent faster than those without.”  No studies have shown that Viagra cures malaria.

So what is Pfizer doing about malaria? Doubtless a new malaria product will not net $1.7 billion in a year. Is there any incentive for big pharmaceutical companies to get involved in solving the malaria problem?

Pfizer is undertaking some drug trials. “Through our Zithromax®/chloroquine clinical trial program, Pfizer scientists are developing a potential malaria treatment based on our widely used antibiotic, Zithromax®. Dosed in combination with chloroquine, Zithromax® demonstrated positive results in the treatment of adults with malaria in Africa. Currently, clinical studies are ongoing at centers in South America, India and Africa.”  Usually though, WHO does not making combination therapy for malaria that contains a drug for which there is already widespread resistance like chloroquine.

On a more practical basis, Pfizer is sponsoring ‘Mobilize Against Malaria‘, which is “A five year, three country initiative that engages and educates treatment providers and patients to improve the utilization and effectiveness of malaria treatment and patient adherence” in Ghana, Kenya and Senegal. Hopefully Pfizer will do more to address challenges of malaria drug potency with the profits it makes from male impotency.

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