News / Health

Synthetic Malaria Drug Made Through Biotech, Yeast

A young girl with malaria rests in the inpatient ward of the Malualkon Primary Health Care Center in Malualkon, in the South Sudanese state of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, June 1, 2012.
A young girl with malaria rests in the inpatient ward of the Malualkon Primary Health Care Center in Malualkon, in the South Sudanese state of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, June 1, 2012.
Jessica Berman
The World Health Organization says more than 200 million people - mostly in sub-Saharan Africa - were infected with malaria in 2010.  The mosquito-borne parasitic illness annually kills 650,000 people, a majority of them young children.

The most effective anti-malaria treatment developed so far is artemisinin, a plant-derived drug that is expensive and often unavailable.  Now, after a decade-long research effort, scientists have found a novel way to cheaply mass-produce artemisinin. The new, bio-synthetic version of the drug could be a major advance in the battle against malaria.

Whenever he travels to Africa, Jack Newman says he arrives prepared with his own supply of artemisinin.

“I always keep it in my back pocket in case I get malaria," said Newman. "Again, in three days you are cured.”

The American researcher hopes others infected with the parasitic illness might soon have easy access to the drug, too.

Newman is co-founder of Amyris, a U.S. biotechnology company that, in collaboration with researchers at the University of California Berkeley and the Canadian National Research Council, developed a process for making large quantities of a semi-synthetic version of artemisinin, offering people with uncomplicated malaria a cure in just three days.  

Artemisinin is a compound that until now has been derived exclusively from an ancient, bitter herb called wormwood.  It is up to 95 percent effective in curing uncomplicated malaria infections but, because it is derived from a plant, artemisinin is frequently in short supply, and expensive.

Newman and his colleagues figured out a way to make an unlimited supply of artemisinin using a technique that combines biotechnology and a simple yeast fermentation process.  

He says they extracted DNA from the wormwood plant and inserted it into yeast cells …

“..to fire up a big fermentation, like beer fermentation, but instead of making beer, you are actually making [an] anti-malarial drug," he said. "And you can do it in hundreds of thousands of gallons and, of course, make it in an industrial fashion, the same way we make penicillin;  very, very inexpensively.”

The process yields a chemical precursor to artemisinin, which is used in the production of the drug.

The innovation was made possible in large part by grants totaling $53.3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the drug development arm of PATH, an international non-profit group that has been leading the fight against malaria and other diseases.  PATH helped move the artemisinin research out of the UC Berkeley labs to Amyris for scale-up, and then to the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, for production of the yeast-based artemisinin. The company says it is distributing the drug free of charge.

Sanofi also plans to share the recipe with other drug makers so they, too, can use the technology to manufacture and distribute it on a “no profit, no loss” basis, according to Amyris's Jack Newman.

“Basically, by using synthetic biology, we’ve been able to stabilize the production so there’s always material available and make it at a very low cost," he said.

Newman says the yeast-based drug is identical to plant-derived artemisinin in terms of effectiveness. It is being formulated with a second anti-malaria compound to reduce the chances of drug resistance.

So far, Newman says, Sanofi plans to make 70 million doses of what he calls malaria “cures” this year. Using synthetic biology, next year the company will scale up production to 120 million doses, which will be distributed globally pending World Health Organization approval.

Jack Newman and his colleagues describe their production of a semi-synthetic version of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin in an article published in the journal Nature.  

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid