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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Faminei
X
Daniel Schearf
November 23, 2014 4:32 PM
During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video Law Enforcement, Activists in Ferguson Agree to Keep Peace

Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, say they have agreed with protest leaders to maintain peace when a grand jury reaches its decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been the scene of intermittent violence since the August 9 shooting intensified long-simmering antagonism between the police and the African-American community. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid