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Guilin Pharmaceutical at Forefront in Battle against Malaria

Chinese company in Guilin has rolled out a range of artemisinin drugs to combat the disease in South Asia and Africa

A Chinese pharmaceutical company is making major inroads into overseas markets by developing the next generation of drugs to fight malaria.

Guilin Pharmaceutical (Shanghai) Co Ltd, or GPSC, has enhanced its international reputation after rolling out a range of artemisinin products to combat the disease.

Also known in Chinese as qinghaosu, artemisinin is a semi-synthetic derivative for a group of drugs that has proved incredibly successful in treating Plasmodium falciparum malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes.

"Innovation is crucial in the pharmaceutical marketplace," Wang Qunbin, president of Fosun Group, which owns Fosun Pharmaceutical and GPSC, said from the company's Shanghai headquarters.

"Quality is also vital if a Chinese brand is to go global."

The country has a proud history in research and development of malaria vaccines.

Tu Youyou, a Chinese medical scientist and pharmaceutical chemist, discovered artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, which are used to tackle the disease in high-risk countries in Africa, South Asia and South America.

Her pioneering work in the 1970s was inspired by ancient Chinese medical remedies and it has since saved millions of lives.

Now aged 85, Tu was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine this year-the first Chinese scientist to win the coveted accolade. "The discovery of artemisinin was an example of successful collective efforts," she told the media after the Nobel announcement. "It's a gift that traditional Chinese medicine has for the world."

That "gift" has sparked further research into the development of vaccines to halt the spread of malaria with GPSC perfecting artesunate, which is part of the artemisinin group of drugs.

The product has been registered in dozens of countries and regions, while the World Health Organization recognizes it as one of the most effective vaccines on the market.

"Focusing on international business, we develop, produce and market various kinds of pharmaceutical products, including anti-malaria drugs, and generic pharmaceuticals," GPSC said on its website.

"We market our products in developing countries, and supply them to clients all over the world, such as the WHO and UNICEF as well as other governmental, profit-and non-profit organizations."

Since 2000, global mortality rates among malaria patients have dropped by 47 percent. In Africa, the rate has come down by 54 percent for adults and 58 percent for children.

GPSC has played an important role, along with major global pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis in Switzerland and Sanofi-Aventis in France, in fighting malaria.

The Chinese company was at the forefront in developing the innovative artesunate vaccine, Artsun, the first of its kind, to replace quinine injections. The WHO has compared it to the "gold standard" in the battle against malaria.

Artsun is now registered in more than 30 countries and regions and has a 90 percent market share in treating servere malaria.

During the past three years, GPSC has supplied 23.8 million units of the vaccine globally, saving more than 3.4 million people from the scourge of malaria.

"This is an innovative drug that was developed in China," Guo Guangchang, chairman of Fosun Group, said.

During the past decade, 13 anti-malaria drugs developed by GPSC have been approved by the WHO, including three which are injected and 10 in oral tablets.

The company's products account for 80 percent of China's anti-malaria drug exports.

In the first three quarters of this year, Fosun Pharmaceutical, which includes GPSC, reported revenue of 9 billion yuan ($1.41 billion), a rise of 4.76 percent compared to the same period in 2014.

Further financial details have yet to be released. The company's products include metabolism and digestive system drugs, and vaccines, as well as GPSC's brands.

"At present, Guilin Pharma is building a new manufacturing site which will comply with (international) standards," GPSC said.

"In future, we will have a production capacity of over 15 billion tablets/capsules per year to meet the needs of both domestic and global markets." the company added.

Fosun Pharmaceutical also plans to expand its research and development program by working alongside institutions and other organizations.

"There should be more cooperation with research institutes and organizations," Chen Qiyu, chairman of Fosun Pharmaceutical, said.

"This would help create a much larger platform, allowing us to do a better job globally."