Max Planck Institute scientists develop simple artemisinin synthesizing process

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces have developed a simple method of synthesizing the artemisinin molecule, which is used as an anti-malaria drug.

The synthetic process uses artemisinic acid, a by-product of the sweet wormwood plant after artemisinin has been harvested from it. Because the acid can be produced in genetically modified yeast, the production of artemisinin can be greatly increased.

"The production of the drug is therefore no longer dependent on obtaining the active ingredient from plants," Peter H. Seeberger, one of the scientists on the project, said.

The only reaction sequence that had previously been utilized required several steps with the intermediate products having to be laboriously isolated. This new method may reduce cost and effort.

"We convert the artemisinic acid into artemisinin in a single step," Seeberger said. "And we have developed a simple apparatus for this process, which enables the production of large volumes of the substance under very controlled conditions."

Seeberger and colleague François Lévesque used oxygen and ultraviolet light in the process of photochemistry to synthesize the artemisinin molecules. Seeberger said that this process could result in ending the global shortage and the high prices of the anti-malaria drug.

"We assume that 800 of our simple photoreactors would suffice to cover the global requirement for artemisinin," Seeberger said.