FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2016

Canadian scientists announce inexpensive malaria treatment

Canadian scientists have developed an inexpensive malaria treatment with the potential to help the millions who suffer from the global infection.

A team from the National Research Council in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has engineered a means to produce a difficult-to-obtain chemical needed in malaria drugs, according to VancouverSun.com.

“This is the most important drug in the treatment of malaria today," Patrick Covello, a senior research officer at the National Research Council in Saskatoon, said, according to the VancouverSun.com. "The World Health Organization says it should be the first line of defense."

The compound is known as artemisinin. It is derived from the sweet wormwood plant found in parts of Asia and Africa. Cultivating and harvesting the plant is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, and its supply is now dependent on weather and growing conditions.

Covello and his team began identifying the genes in the wormwood plant that produce the protein that leads to artemisinin in 2003.

“We identified four genes in what we call the pathway to artemisinin in the plant,” Covello noted, VancouverSun.com reports.

Concurrently, scientists from the University of California at Berkeley found that they could develop an artemisinin precursor using yeast.

Covello contacted Amyrsis Technologies, a spinoff company from the Berkeley researchers, and suggested that they combine the two methods. When two of the genes Covello found were introduced into Berkeley’s yeast compound, artemisinin production doubled, VancouverSun.com reports.

The Institute for OneWorld Health, an American-based organization that has helmed the semi-synthetic artemisinin development project, recently announced that the company is ready to increase artemisinin production using the two genes identified in Canada.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has contributed $42.6 million towards the American research, is also supporting the drug’s production on a not-for-profit level.

“The idea is to provide the developing world with antimalarial drugs at the lowest possible cost and, in addition, to provide a very stable supply because this yeast-fermentation process is shorter term and more reliable than growing the plants themselves,” Covello, according to VancouverSun.com.