Coluorised scanning electron micrograph of red blood cell infected with blue-coloured malaria parasites and uninfected cells with a smooth red surface.
Photo: © NIAID

New technology to produce antimalarial drugs

Scientists in Germany have found a way to produce antimalarial drugs directly from plant waste obtained in the drug production process.

Pharmaceuticals against malaria can now be produced in pure form using a single process, even from the plant-extraction waste of Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood), scientists of Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Freie Universität Berlin, and Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, Magdeburg, reported in September 2014. 

The scientists succeeded in producing Artemisinin from the waste of artemisinin extraction from sweet wormwood in a photoreactor using continuous flow chemistry. Artemisinin is the intermediate from which the anti-malaria medications Artemether, Artesunate, Artemotil, and Dihydroartemisinin are produced.

According to the scientists of Max Planck Institute the method developed allows the complete production of antimalarial medicines in a continuous fashion, utilising one reactor at one location. The process uses both artemisinin and the plant waste product to obtain these medicines, enabling more material to be used and more medicines to be produced without having to increase the amount of plant material farmed. The ability to utilise multiple sources for production builds on the photochemical reactor developed by the same scientists two years ago.

The scientists note that with the new method, further steps of the value chain could be transferred to developing countries, which currently only grow and extract the plant. This would help dramatically shorten the supply chain and increase the pharmaceutical independence capabilities of developing countries.

The scientists believe their approach could be an optimal solution to lowering the cost of antimalarial drug production. All major substances in the plant can be used, the method is cheaper than others, and it produces very pure medications. While the artemisinin obtained by extractors can be transformed for medications, medications can be produced from the waste obtained in that same extraction process. Comparatively, almost twice as much medication can be produced from the plant. This would help farmers and extractors in developing countries make a better living from the plant.

(Freie Universität Berlin/ile)