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Saturday 26th May 2018

Technology could wipe out malaria

24th November 2008

A new report which looks at artemisinin therapies for malaria says supply of the plant-based drug could be boosted by newly emerging technologies, bringing fresh hope for eradication of the killer disease.


Artemesinin combination therapies are the current front-line therapy of choice to combat the malaria parasite, which has shown increasing resistance to artemisin on its own.

World experts have called for further developments in plant breeding, new drugs and ways to make artemisinin synthetically, to bring down the high cost of such combination treatments.

Based on the conclusions of the Artemisinin Enterprise Conference 2008, an event backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership and hosted by the University of York, the report examines the effort to boost artemisinin supplies, which is known as the Artemisinin Enterprise.

The global malaria community recently agreed to subsidise the cost of artemisinin combination therapies, of which around 100 million were sold in 2006.

Analysts expect demand to at least double over the next four years, possibly growing to 300 million doses sold every year.

Artemisinin currently has to be extracted from the artemisia annua wormwood plant, of which there will be a shortage in 2010, owing to lack of cultivation.

The report highlights three emerging technologies which could help.

In one example, the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York is using fast-track plant breeding to create crops that produce higher yields of artemisinin.

This follows a decision to avoid genetic modification of crops to avoid the red tape hurdles that would ensue.

It points to a synthetic artemisinin-like drug currently in development by the non-profit organisation Medicines for Malaria Venture.

These experimental drugs have been shown to cure malaria in mice in just one dose, and clinical trials in humans will begin in February or March 2009.

An in another innovation, fermentation combined with synthetic chemistry is being used to produce artemisinin by the nonprofit pharmaceutical company Institute for One World Health.

According to Philippe Desjeux of the Institute, scientists there aim to create a stable, second source of artemisinin to supplement existing natural sources.

He said he that this source of semi-synthetic artemisinin would be more affordable for drug manufacturers, and help to reduce the price of artemisinin combination therapies, increasing access to the live-saving medicines for people in the worst-hit countries.

The compound will go into commercial production by 2012, Desjeux estimated.

In 2006 there were between 189 and 327 million cases of malaria with over 880,000 deaths - largely children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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