Synthetic biology can prolong anti-malaria drug effectiveness

March 7th, 2009 - 6:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 7 (IANS) Synthetic biology can provide a simpler and cheaper way of making artemisinin, the most powerful anti-malaria drug and also help prolong its effectiveness.
Fermenting artemisinin via engineered microbes like yeast can be done at a much lower cost than extracting the drug from Artemsisia annua, the sweet wormwood tree.

Restricting access to this technology to responsible manufacturers who will bundle artemisinin as part of an anti-malarial drug “cocktail” rather than selling it as a monotherapy should delay or even prevent malarial parasites from developing resistance.

Recently, there have been reports of malaria parasites in West Africa showing some signs of resistance to artemisinin.

“The problem has been that some manufacturers have sold artemisinin as a monotherapy rather than as a co-therapy as is recommended by the World Health Organisation,” said Jay Keasling, CEO of the department of energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI).

Keasling, a chemical engineer at Berkeley Lab and University of California-Berkeley (UC-B), led the development of this microbial-based method of producing artemisinin.

“Any drug that is used as a monotherapy raises the possibility of microbes developing resistance to it. Right now artemisinin is grown by farmers all over the world and sold to anybody. Through the synthetic biology technique, access to the cheapest artemisinin can be restricted to manufacturers who agree to sell it as part of a co-therapy drug.”

Keasling made his remarks at a press briefing at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), said an Eurekalert release.

“Synthetic biology is somewhat like building a computer from the off-the-shelf parts,” Keasling said. “You have a knowledge base, off-the-shelf components, a system for assembling these parts and an idea as to what you want to do.”

-Indo-Asian News Service

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