Production of antimalarial drug successfully moved to Tanzania

Article, 25.04.2016

Switzerland is making great efforts to help combat malaria. For World Malaria Day on 25 April: a close-up on how production of an antimalarial drug has been successfully moved to Tanzania.

A man holding an ASAQ antimalarial tablet between finger and thumb. The drug is manufactured at the new site in Tanzania.
The antimalarial drug ASAQ is now produced in a factory in Tanzania. © DNDi

Getting the two-layered antimalarial tablet known as ASAQ produced in the Zenufa factory in the Tanzanian economic capital Dar es Salaam was an enormous challenge – one that took the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) six years. The SDC has invested CHF 270,000 in the project.

WHO authorisation needed for mass production

«The transfer of pharmaceutical technology has been a success», explains head of the ASAQ project at DNDi Jean-René Kiechel proudly. «What we are still hoping for is WHO prequalification for the drug and the Tanzanian production site. An application is being finalised. We are completely ready.» 

If the WHO grants the application to market the product, the factory in Tanzania could progressively scale up production to three to five million treatments per year for distribution in Africa. ASAQ, a generic drug, is the second most widely used antimalarial drug worldwide. A high-quality product that has been widely studied, it is currently the cheapest on the market. Along with a factory in Morocco, the site in Dar es Salaam is only the second in Africa to manufacture the drug.

Close to areas where malaria is endemic

Why did you choose a factory in Tanzania? «We chose a partner in Africa which already had a local factory that was modern, with good production capacities», says Jean-René Kiechel. «Plus Zenufa is present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This branch of the group facilitates links with other countries in southern Africa».

It is in sub-Saharan Africa that malaria does the most damage. Tanzania borders the DRC, a country where malaria is endemic and kills a huge number of people. Local production will help improve access to drugs for the people worst affected. 

«In this project there was real demand from African representatives to cut out the middle man, procuring antimalarial drugs without going through the usual suppliers in Europe and India.»

Many hurdles overcome

The journey was ridden with obstacles of a technical, administrative and human nature. Producing a two-layered tablet combining two active ingredients in Tanzania was a real adventure according to the project manager. 

It involved major improvements to equipment and the packaging of the drug was adapted to withstand the tropical climate. The packing machine took a year and a half to arrive. A fire on the ship caused the equipment to be redirected via India and China. At the same time, taxes and import regulations often held up progress. 

It took time to put together a production team. «The local team were motivated and showed a lot of interest, but they had to adapt to new manufacturing and control processes specific to ASAQ. They also had to learn to work better as a team. There was not enough team spirit at the start of the project.»

Switzerland's commitment to combating malaria

The SDC is using World Malaria Day to restate its determination to take action against the disease. It is helping to finance numerous malaria projects and promoting multi-stakeholder efforts to facilitate the transfer of technology and health expertise to the worst affected countries. 

«Thanks to coordinated action worldwide, our generation has the historic opportunity to end malaria», says SDC director Manuel Sager. This year the Swiss Malaria Group, of which the DNDi is a partner, is directed by the SDC. Like the other countries of the world, Switzerland has made a commitment in the 2030 Agenda to end malaria by 2030.

Malaria kills in Africa

Plasmodium might be microscopic but it is still an indiscriminate killer. Transmitted by the female mosquito, the malaria parasite kills over 430,000 people every year, mainly in Africa. In 2015, 88% of recorded cases and 90% of malaria-related deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Children under five are especially vulnerable. More than two thirds of deaths are in this age range. In 2015, approximately 290,000 African children died from this disease before their fifth birthday.