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New Process To Create Malaria Drug Artemisinin Should Provide Stable Supply, Reduce Cost, Researchers Report

“U.S. scientists on Wednesday said they had used baker’s yeast to make a key ingredient of malaria drugs, a feat that could iron out fluctuations in supply caused by sourcing the chemical from a Chinese herb,” Artemisia annua, Agence France-Presse reports (4/10). “Global health advocates say they expect this new method of producing artemisinin will at last provide a stable supply of the drug and cut the overall cost of malaria treatment,” NPR’s “Shots” blog notes (Beaubien, 4/10). “The study published [Wednesday] by the journal Nature, and funded by the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, describes how the new process boosts production of artemisinic acid by almost 16 times the amount of previous approaches,” Bloomberg Businessweek writes. After production, “[a]rtemisinic acid is then converted into the drug artemisinin, which is combined with other antimalarial treatments to ensure the parasites that cause the disease are cleared,” the news agency continues (Flinn, 4/10).

“Already, the French drug maker Sanofi is ramping up production at a plant in Italy to manufacture the ingredient and the drug,” according to NPR (4/10). The Seattle-based non-profit PATH, which worked with its partners on discovering the new production process, notes on the website for the project, “Sanofi will sell the semisynthetic artemisinin at cost, helping to keep the price low for developing countries” (4/11). “‘Because all intellectual property rights have been provided free of charge, this technology has the potential to increase provision of first-line antimalarial treatments to the developing world at a reduced average annual price,’ the researchers said,” AFP writes (4/10).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.