Every year, the transmission of malaria by a small mosquito costs up to 400,000 lives worldwide. Around 80 per cent of the victims are children under the age of five. Most cases occur in Africa, travellers are also contracting the disease. Deutsche Malaria GmbH, a German-British alliance with headquarters in Hamburg and sites across the city and in Westerham, uses the synthetically-produced active substance fosmidomycin and has achieved considerable success in combination with other preparations, as shareholder Frank Oertel tells Hamburg News in an interview.
Hamburg News: Dear Mr. Oertel, how did the idea come about, what motivates you?
Frank Oertel: The annual number of illnesses speaks for itself. In 1934, a malaria drug was last developed in Germany. This has not occurred since then because the large pharmaceutical companies apparently do not view it as financially viable. At the same time, more and more people are becoming resistant to common malaria drugs…a highly dangerous development.
Hamburg News: But you’re a sales person, not a doctor…
Frank Oertel: That’s right. That’s why we, the investor, set off on a search and found the malaria expert par excellence in London. Since then, we have been working very successfully with the British physician and scientist Dr. David Hutchinson, Managing Director of DM GmbH. Previous studies show that we have a cure rate of 100 per cent. At the same time, we have other co-operating partners such as the University of Tubingen and, of course, the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg. In addition to the patients in the affected countries, our target groups also include travellers and soldiers.
Hamburg News: You recently attended the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports you. Both of them were there as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel. What did you achieve in Berlin?
Frank Oertel: The event was a success for us in several respects. NASA, for example, surprisingly offered us data on regions that are likely to be particularly vulnerable to malaria in the near future. In addition, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced an award for “Great Ideas” that comes with USD 200,000 initially. We see great opportunities there also.
Hamburg News: Have there been any other reactions?
Frank Oertel: We are particularly pleased that a start-up and a team of students from the University of Hamburg and the University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH) have contacted us to develop a sustainable mosquito trap. The prevention method is based on synthetic biology (igem.org). A promising and novel method.
Hamburg News: What are your next steps?
Frank Oertel: We are on course to regulatory approval, but have not yet reached the end of the road. Therefore, we are urgently looking for more partners to accelerate the next steps in the study programme to bring relevant anti-malaria therapeutics to the market as soon as possible. We will then probably grant a licence to Hamburg-based producers. In this way, the drug could prove a success for Hamburg as a location of medicine and science also.
Interview by Karolin Köcher
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