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Welsh researchers discover powerful new way to produce malaria drug

Scientists in Wales have discovered a new way of making a drug commonly used in the fight against malaria around the world.

Credit: James Gathany/Cdc/Handout/DPA/PA Images

The method, devised by researchers at Cardiff University, significantly reduces the time, and cost, taken to produce artemisinin, which is recommended by the World Health Organisation for treatment of all cases of severe malaria.

The worldwide supply of the drug relies on it being extracted from the plant Artemisia annua. It's a lengthy process, with 13 steps, so chemists began looking at a way of efficiently producing it in a laboratory.

There is an urgent need to produce the drug at low cost, because the current demand for artemisinin comes mainly from the developing world. The new method means the drug can be created in just four steps.

Our new method has essentially bypassed a number of key steps on the way to producing artemisinin.

What we're left with is a novel and powerful approach for producing the drug that does not rely on extraction from large amounts of plants. Our approach could reduce market fluctuations in the supply chain of artemisinin.

– Professor Rudolf Allemann, School of Chemistry, Cardiff University

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