New synthetic anti-malarial could slow down resistance

According to this New Scientist article, an American company has recently discovered a way to manufacture artemisinin, the world’s most effective anti-malarial drug. In the past, artemisinic acid has always been extracted from the specially grown wormwood plant, and then made into the drug. Now, Amyris, a biotech company, can get yeast to pump out the acid, in just 3 weeks, instead of 18 months, which could make it much cheaper to produce.

However, the malaria parasite is becoming resistant to artemisinin, so this new development could help, if it is combined with other drugs. Unfortunately, some companies are still producing pure artemisinin and 25 countries still allow it to be used, which means that resistance to it is growing.

Hopefully, this new synthetic production of the drug, will make it cheaper to produce, and will out-price the pure artemisinin, so the rate of resistance slows down.

Resistance to artemisinin is mostly in Asia, but there are fears that it could spread to Africa where 90% of malaria deaths occur. It’s also been discovered that parasites in Cambodia have greater genetic resistance to the drug compared with resistant parasites in other parts of the world. Nicholas White of Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand, says that ‘…the most important tool needed to contain resistance is finding a genetic marker for it.’

Let’s hope that research into anti-malarial drugs continues to produce effective results, and that a genetic marker can be identified to combat the resistance of malarial parasites to the drugs. In the meantime, the use of treated bed nets is a really cheap and effective way of reducing the risk of people being bitten, especially children.

This Thursday is World Malaria Day. If you want to help to fight malaria, please click on my Just Giving page here, where a donation of £5 will buy and deliver a treated bed net for a family in Africa. Thanks!

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