On Friday, global pharmaceutical giant Sanofi announced it had received an approval for its new treatment for sleeping sickness, called rhodesiense, from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

In the announcement, Sanofi said the new medicine, Fexinidazole Winthrop, is the first oral medicine capable of treating an acute presentation of sleeping sickness, which is a fatal disease produced by a parasite that is transmitted through the bite of infected tsetse flies. The disease is endemic to 36 African countries, according to the company.

The approval of the drug covers its usage in the treatment of adults and children 6 and older, with a weight of at least 20kg (44lbs) during both the first and second stages of the disease.

In the first stage, the parasites can be found in both the blood and lymphatic system. In the second stage of the disease, the parasite invades the central nervous system.

Sanofi said that the approval comes after the drug was tested in clinical trials in both Malawi and Uganda, in research which was helmed by the non-profit medical research organization Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi).

Dr Westain Nyirenda, principal investigator and physician at Rumphi Hospital in Malawi said, “Until now, due to the lack of innovation for this strain of sleeping sickness, old and toxic treatment options have to be administered in a hospital under strict surveillance. Having a simple and safer oral pill to treat this frightening disease will allow doctors to rapidly save lives.”

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