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Cipla makes user-friendly AIDS drug for African kids

Indian drug major Cipla is working with a global health NGO to manufacture the first user-friendly pediatric HIV/AIDS drug targeted at millions of African children who are currently being forced to take medicine that is unpalatable - to say the least.

Cipla, which has revolutionised access to affordable drugs for the poor in developing countries, is working with Switzerland-based Drugs for Neglected Drugs initiative (DNDi), to produce a more palatable, effective and easy to use pediatric HIV drug for African children, who are currently compelled to use a combination of drugs to manage the condition.

The drug is undergoing clinical trials in South Africa and the results are expected to be made public later this year.

The two partners were optimistic that the trials will return positive results and the benefits will be huge for African children as well as health sector providers in the continent, DNDi director Marcel Tanner said.

"The available medication for infected children in the market today are not suitable for children. They taste bad, care givers have to crush the tablet on a hard surface and are generally not easy to administer," Tanner told IANS.

"Imagine an infant having to take very bad-tasting, awful medicine daily. Which is why we are working with Cipla to come up with better medication for millions of children living with HIV in Africa," said Tanner, who was here earlier this month for an event to mark 10 years of R&D in fighting neglected diseases in Africa.

Africa has some 3.4 million children aged below 15 living with HIV and nearly 200,000 are born with the infection annually. Less than 30 percent of the infected children have access to Antiretrovirals (ARVs) for treating HIV/AIDS.

The new medicine will be a combination drug capable of controlling multiplication of the HIV virus in the body and preventing tuberculosis - the most common and deadly infection among HIV patients, Tanner pointed out.

The drug will be made available as a granule-filled capsule for easy preparation and administration.

"The new formulation will deliver a four-in-one therapy for children below three years in a safe and effective manner for infected infants", Tanner said at the anniversary event.

Cipla was picked as a partner owing to its reputation for making affordable medicines for the poor in the developing world, as also on the basis of its experience in manufacturing ARVs.

"In North (Europe and America) people are able to very effectively initiate measures to prevent transmission of HIV to children, unlike in the South. Thus, we had to pick a company that understands the conditions in the developing world," Tanner explained.

Founded in 2003 by a group including the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Brazil), the Pasteur Institute (France), Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), DNDi has been battling neglected diseases in the tropics, among them pediatric HIV and malaria.