Company initiatives, Health and safety, Video

Synthetic bio success in anti-malaria drug

The blog does not usually cover the pharmaceuticals market being that I am unfamiliar with the players and the products in this industry. However, this news coming from University of California Berkeley warrants a post as professor of chemical engineering Jay Keasling — also the co-founder of Amyris, announced that France-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi will launch a large-scale production of a partially synthetic version of artemisinin, a chemical critical in making an anti-malaria drug.

Artemisinin is a compound that until now has been extracted from the sweet wormwood plant Artemsia annua. Keasling and his colleagues at Amyris engineered a yeast strain that can produce artemisinin, which is then turned into the active anti-malarial drug artesunate and typically mixed with another anti-malarial drug in what is called artemisinin combination therapy (ACT).

According to Sanofi, it has partnered with PATH (an international nonprofit organization aiming to transform global health through innovation) to build a facility at Sanofi’s Garessio site in Italy that will produce 35 tons of artemisinin in 2013, and on average, 50-60 tons per year by 2014 – an equivalent of between 80m-150m ACT treatments.

The artemisinic acid will be produced through fermentation performed by Huverpharma in Bulgaria, which will then be transformed in artemisinin via photochemistry at the Garessio site.

Following regulatory approval expected later this year, semisynthetic artemisinin will be ready for rapid integration into the supply chain for antimalarial therapies, according to Sanofi.

More than 650,000 and most of them children in developing countries die of malaria each year. Global demand for artemisinin has increased since 2005 when the World Health Organization identified ACTs as the most effective malaria treatment available.

Sanofi said that it is committed to producing semisynthetic artemisinin using a no-profit, no-loss production model, which will help to maintain a low price for developing countries. Though the price of ACTs will vary from product to product, the new source for its key ingredient, in addition to the plant-derived supply, should lead to a stable cost and steady supply, said Keasling.

Sweet wormwood is grown commercially in China, Southeast Asia and Africa although (as any other crop feedstock), quality, supply and cost have been unpredictable and inconsistent.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.

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