Scientists make malaria drug based on herbal remedy

Scientists have created a synthetic drug that could offer new hope in the fight against malaria.

Nearly two billion people live in areas affected by malaria. The disease, transmitted by mosquitoes, is becoming a bigger threat as the parasite that causes it develops immunity to drugs used to fight it.

The new drug is based on a chemical found in traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

Scientists have long been interested in artemisinin - a fever remedy that comes from the bark of the sweet wormwood tree - that has been shown to help kill malaria parasites.

But the drug is expensive to make in the laboratory and requires complicated treatment programs that are difficult to get patients to follow.

An international team of scientists in the United States, Britain, Switzerland and Australia said in research published in the British science journal Nature they had developed a synthetic drug, OZ277, designed to offer the benefits of artemisinin that could be cheaper to produce and more potent.

It will require tests before OZ277 can become a commercial drug. But in an accompanying article, Paul O’Neill of the Chemistry and Pharmacology departments of the University of Liverpool said the new class of compounds “could offer the best solution to date for destroying drug-resistant malaria parasites.”

SOURCE: Nature, August 19, 2004.

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Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.