Medicines for Malaria Venture: Towards a Better Future - Chris Hentschel

Medicines for Malaria Venture is a not-for-profit drug research foundation seeking to discover, develop and deliver antimalarials to the world’s poor. Chief executive Chris Hentschel explains to CEO the challenges facing a small organisation looking to make a big difference.

CEO: How can a small organisation of only 40 people hope to rid the world of malaria?

Chris Hentschel: One of my favourite quotes is by anthropologist Margaret Mead who said: ‘Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.’ When Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) was launched in 1999, we were a small, yet extremely ambitious start-up. We were convinced it was possible to discover, develop and deliver effective malaria medicines to the world’s most vulnerable populations. To do this we needed to work with eminent scientific partners and opinion leaders who believed in our mission and in the highly decentralised ‘product development partnership’ concept that we espoused.

Today we work with over 130 private and public partners and researchers in malaria endemic countries. The wealth of expertise and experience we have on tap is immeasurable. It has helped us develop a new child-friendly antimalarial combination therapy (ACT) – Coartem® Dispersible – that is already saving lives. We also have two other combination therapies waiting in the wings: Eurartesim™ and Pyramax®.

This is just the beginning. Through our growing R&D portfolio we are confident we will produce more medicines that will form an essential part of the global armoury against malaria. Of course, drugs alone cannot rid the world of malaria. It will take an integrated approach, including bed nets, indoor spraying, vector control, diagnostics and, possibly, a vaccine.

What role do your partners and donors play in your work?

"Our donors have placed real trust in us and use their own networks to provide increased competencies as we hunt for effective and affordable antimalarials."

Our whole operation is global and works through synergistic partnerships. Our pharmaceutical partners, for example, give more than just access to their compound libraries, they share their cutting-edge technologies and facilities, expertise in clinical development and regulatory requirements, and manufacturing and commercialisation experience. All this is critical, not just to help bring medicines to market but to help them achieve a significant impact on people’s health.

Policy makers are willing to engage in dialogue with us to understand the nuanced benefits of one ACT compared to another. And our donors have placed real trust in us and use their own networks to provide increased competencies as we hunt for effective and affordable antimalarials.

MMV recently launched an antimalarial for children. How long did it take and what were your main challenges?

Children under five in sub-Saharan Africa are the hardest hit by malaria. They comprise 85% of the approximately one million people who die from the disease. In 2003, we entered into partnership with Novartis to develop a drug for this group; Coartem Dispersible is a cherry-flavoured dispersible tablet, with a 97.5% cure rate.

The research and development of drugs is a long and meticulous process and is made even more so given the fact that MMV strives to develop all of its products to the highest international quality. We take no short cuts and make no exceptions.

If you had one wish that would enable you to achieve your organisation’s mission, what would it be?

Given the current financial crisis, it would be disingenuous of me not to admit that one of our current challenges is to find new funding sources, so a self-evident wish would be to keep the trust and commitment of our generous donors and ensure adequate and sustainable funding for our mission. Apart from that, my greatest wish would be for the myriad frustrating obstacles between factory gate and the patient’s hand to be lifted so that our medicines save lives quickly and have maximum impact. It’s a challenging but realistic wish.