German scientists synthesize anti-malaria drugs from waste materials

German scientists have discovered a cheap and simple method to synthesize anti-malaria drugs in large quantities from waste materials.

Sweet wormwood, a plant that grows in Vietnam, China and a few other countries, is the source of artemisinin. Artemisinin is an effective drug used against malaria,which kills approximately one million people worldwide each year, Xinhua reports.

The scientists have created a simple process that synthesizes artemisinin in a laboratory using artemisinic acid. The acid is contained in the waste materials left over after artemisinin has been extracted from the sweet wormwood plant. The artemisinic acid found in the plant's waste materials has a volume 10 times greater than the active ingredient itself.

"The production of the drug is therefore no longer dependent on obtaining the active ingredient from plants," Peter Seeberger, the director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, said, according to Xinhua.

The process takes 4.5 minutes using a continuous flow reactor to produce artemisinin. Seeberger estimated that using 800 reactors, scientists could cover the global requirement for artemisinin. The entire synthetic process could be ready for use in three to six months.

Malaria is caused by parasites that are transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. An estimated 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010, most of them children in Africa.