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Breakthrough for anti-malaria drug

Jan. 17, 2012 at 11:05 PM   |   Comments

GOLM, Germany, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- An anti-malaria drug whose supply has been restricted by limited availability of a Chinese herb can now be made in large quantities, German researchers say.

Peter H. Seeberger, director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and the Freie Universitat Berlin, said researchers developed a simple process for the synthesis of artemisinin, the active ingredient in the drug, which pharmaceutical companies could only obtain from plants before now.

The chemists use a waste product from current artemisinin production as their starting substance and this can also be produced biotechnologically in yeast, which the scientists convert into the active ingredient, using a simple method.

The chemists said they used artemisinic acid -- a substance produced as an unused by-product from the isolation of artemisinin from sweet wormwood, which is produced in volumes 10 times greater than the active ingredient itself. Moreover, artemisinic acid can easily be produced in genetically modified yeast as it has a much simpler structure.

"We convert the artemisinic acid into artemisinin in a single step," Seeberger said in a statement. "And we have developed a simple apparatus for this process, which enables the production of large volumes of the substance under very controlled conditions."

Seeberger and his colleague, Francois Levesque, said the treatment is effective against malaria, but is not accessible to all of the more than 200 million people worldwide who are affected by the disease. Millions, especially in the developing world, cannot afford the drug, which consists mainly of artemisinin.

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