History of Praziquantel
Praziquantel was discovered in the 1970s in a joint collaboration between German pharmaceutical firms Bayer A.G. and E. Merck. It was patented in Germany as a veterinary antihelminthic in December of 1973, and Bayer subsequently partnered with the World Health Organization to run clinical trials verifying the safety of praziquantel in humans. Due to the low profit potential from developing countries, this public-private partnership was essential in making praziquantel available in the international market by the early 1980s (4).
However, the drug was initially not affordable in countries where schistosomiasis and liver and lung flukes were endemic. In the Republic of Korea, about 10% of the population was infected with lung or liver flukes in the early 1980s, but Bayer version of the drug (Biltricide) was priced well out of the reach of the primarily agricultural population that suffered from flukes. Korea's Shin Poong Pharmaceutical Company saw the opportunity to develop an internal method for synthesizing praziquantel and delivering it to local residents. The Korean government was heavily supportive of R&D efforts, and partnerships with universities, such as the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), helped spur drug development. Further, the Korean government helped protect Shin Poong from external competition, creating a duopoly for praziquantel between Bayer and Shin Poong (3).
Shin Poong took the opportunity to pursue an aggressive strategy, using its low cost structure to erode the monopoly on praziquantel that Bayer enjoyed in the early 1980s. By the early 1990s, Shin Poong had captured 90% of the Korean market share, and in 1993 became the largest global producer of praziquantel (3). It also licensed its product internationally, notably to the Egyptian International Pharmaceutical Industries Company (EIPICO). In Egypt, government support and recognition of schistosomiasis as a high priority health concern enabled led the government to secure international funding, enabling domestic production of praziquantel. Shin Poong was able to profit from the deal by recognizing the high volume of drug that the Egyptian government would request.
Today, Korea and China produce much of the raw materials associated with praziquantel, and the cost of production has dropped significantly. A 600 mg tablet that cost $1 in 1980 now costs just over 7 cents, making the possibility of widespread treatment even more realistic (2).