Merck Serono Helps Eliminate Schistosomiasis in Africa

By Merck Serono S A, PRNE
Monday, December 12, 2011

GENEVA, December 13, 2011 -

  • Number of donated tablets doubled to around 50 million per year

Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, today announced its intention to further boost its efforts in the fight against the tropical disease schistosomiasis and to continue until the disease has been officially eliminated in Africa. The company plans to double its annual donation of tablets containing the active ingredient praziquantel from 25 million to 50 million in the medium term. The company committed itself to doing so at a meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

Having originally planned to end the project in 2017, Merck Serono now intends to continue its efforts to fight schistosomiasis indefinitely. Complementary to this donation, Merck Serono will financially support a WHO-led school-awareness program in Africa. The objective is to educate children about the consequences of schistosomiasis and ways to prevent the disease. In addition, Merck Serono intends to improve the tablet formulation and to step up its schistosomiasis research efforts.

“Together with WHO, we want to help to successfully fight this insidious tropical disease,” said Stefan Oschmann, Executive Board Member of Merck KGaA and President of Merck Serono. Under the Merck Praziquantel Donation Program (MPDP), around 80 million tablets containing the active ingredient praziquantel have been distributed since 2008 to treat about 19 million children in 15 African countries.

“Partnership between Merck Serono and WHO over the years has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people treated for this preventable disease,” said Dr Hiroki Nakatani, WHO Assistant Director-General. “As well as improving the health of school-aged children, regular treatment with praziquantel prevents the development of morbidity in later life.”

Schistosomiasis is the most common tropical disease in Africa after malaria. It is estimated that more than 200 million people are infected and that around 200,000 die from it each year. Schistosomiasis is a chronic, parasitic disease caused by blood flukes (trematode worms) of the genus Schistosoma. It is prevalent in tropical and sub-tropical areas, especially in poor communities with no access to safe water and adequate sanitation. The disease is spread in freshwater, where parasitic worm larvae infect people while swimming, fishing or washing laundry. They penetrate human skin, enter the blood vessels and attack the internal organs. The infection rate is particularly high among children.

Praziquantel, an active ingredient developed by Merck Serono, is the most effective therapy currently available for schistosomiasis infections. The medicine has a very good safety profile, easily administered as a single dose and is well tolerated. A Merck Serono site in Mexico produces the tablets with the brand name Cesol® 600. WHO coordinates local distribution.

About Merck Serono

Merck Serono is the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a global pharmaceutical and chemical company. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Merck Serono discovers, develops, manufactures and markets prescription medicines of both chemical and biological origin in specialist indications. In the United States and Canada, EMD Serono operates as a separately incorporated affiliate of Merck Serono.

Merck Serono has leading brands serving patients with cancer (Erbitux®, cetuximab), multiple sclerosis (Rebif®, interferon beta-1a), infertility (Gonal-f®, follitropin alfa), endocrine and metabolic disorders (Saizen® and Serostim®, somatropin), (Kuvan®, sapropterin dihydrochloride), (Egrifta®, tesamorelin), as well as cardiometabolic diseases (Glucophage®, metformin), (Concor®, bisoprolol), (Euthyrox®, levothyroxine). Not all products are available in all markets.

With an annual R&D expenditure of over € 1bn, Merck Serono is committed to growing its business in specialist-focused therapeutic areas including neurodegenerative diseases, oncology, fertility and endocrinology, as well as new areas potentially arising out of research and development in rheumatology.

About Merck

Merck is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company with total revenues of € 9.3 billion in 2010, a history that began in 1668, and a future shaped by more than 40,000 employees in 67 countries. Its success is characterized by innovations from entrepreneurial employees. Merck’s operating activities come under the umbrella of Merck KGaA, in which the Merck family holds an approximately 70% interest and shareholders own the remaining approximately 30%. In 1917 the U.S. subsidiary Merck & Co. was expropriated and has been an independent company ever since.

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Merck Serono S.A. - Geneva, 9 Chemin des Mines, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland, Media Relations, Tel: +41-22-414-36-00

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