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scientists react to news of synthetic drug for malaria published in Nature

Comments are in response to a new synthetic drug which has been produced. Modelled on the active ingredient in a traditional Chinese herbal remedy for malaria, it could prove to herald a breakthrough in treatment.

Brian Greenwood, Professor of Tropical Medicine, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said:

“Malaria has been a neglected disease, but there is growing recognition by the international community that it is important. One problem is that the malaria parasite is becoming resistant to drugs, such as chloroquine, that have been used as treatment for many years. As a result, the number of deaths in Africa from malaria is on the increase. The most promising new drug for treatment, derived from a plant called Artemisia annua, is now being used more frequently, but making it is difficult and expensive. This is because the plant takes about eighteen months to grow and then the drug needs to be extracted. This new research has produced a drug very similar to that from plants, but without the time and expense of waiting for the plant to grow and extracting the compound. This should make the drug easier to produce and less expensive.”

Andrew Read, Professor of Biology, Edinburgh University, said:

“All major advances in anti-malarials have to be welcomed – chemotherapy remains crucial for reducing the worldwide malaria burden and will remain so for the foreseeable future. There is always great optimism when a new ‘wonder drug’ comes along, yet malaria parasites are extremely adept at evolving drug resistance. Let’s hope the optimism is well placed this time, though history is not on our side. But a new drug that works even only in the medium term will save many, many lives and is to be greatly welcomed.”

Robert Sinden, Professor of Parasite Cell Biology, Imperial College, said:

“Malaria is an ever-growing burden on global health and productivity. Widespread resistance to established antimalarial drugs recently prompted a recommendation that the expensive semi-synthetic artemisinin-based drugs be introduced as a frontline defence (see Duffy and Mutabingwa, The Lancet, 2004, 363, 3-4). However the increased costs may place an unsustainable burden on the poorer afflicted nations. Therefore the discovery of a method for the direct chemical synthesis of this family of compounds, which has the potential to reduce the production costs, and therefore increase the availability, of these drugs is a major step forward. However the fight is not over, resistance to these drugs will evolve, and the search for new drugs, vaccines and other measures to halt transmission of this expanding disease must be pursued with vigour.”

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