Merck is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company with total revenues of € 10.3 billion in 2011, a history that began in 1668, and a future shaped by more than 40,000 employees in 67 countries. 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%. Merck has been supporting the World Health Organization (WHO) in the fight against schistosomiasis in Africa since 2007. The company is donating tablets containing the active ingredient praziquantel to WHO, which is distributing the tablets mainly to African school children.
To date, a total of more than 83 million tablets have been distributed and over 21 million children have been treated. Praziquantel is the only active ingredient with which all forms of schistosomiasis can be treated. In addition, praziquantel is well-tolerated. It is therefore on the WHO list of essential drugs. Praziquantel was developed by Merck in the 1970s as part of research cooperation. Merck produces praziquantel tablets for the donation program under the brand name Cesol® 600 in Mexico.
Originally, the program was scheduled to end in 2017. However, Merck decided at the end of 2011 to continue its efforts indefinitely. The joint goal with WHO is to eliminate the worm disease in Africa. Merck will therefore increase the number of tablets donated annually from 25 million at present to up to 250 million in the medium term. This donation, which will be worth US$ 23 million per year, will allow the treatment of around 100 million children annually.
In addition, Merck is also supporting an awareness program at African schools to explain the causes of schistosomiasis to children and teach them how to prevent the disease. To date, WHO has used the educational material in pilot projects underway in Senegal and Malawi. Merck is also working to improve the previous formulation of the tablets. Pharmaceutical experts are currently developing a fruity coating, which is to make it easier for children to take the tablets. Merck is conducting research on a pediatric formulation of praziquantel for preschool children within the scope of a public-private partnership. So far, praziquantel tablets can only be administered to children over the age of six.