Malaria drug made by baker’s yeast

Fermentation process could become important new production method for artemisinin

Using genetically engineered baker’s yeast, researchers have come up with a shortcut to making artemisinin, a frontline drug against malaria. Christopher Paddon of Amyris Inc. of Emeryville, Calif., and his colleagues describe their process April 10 in Nature.  

Last year the team reported that they could ferment the bioengineered yeast to make amorphadiene, a precursor of artemisinic acid. In the new study, they improve the yield of the precursor and then spell out a process for converting artemisinic acid to artemisinin itself. The researchers say the overall strategy could streamline artemisinin manufacturing.

Artemisinin, which the sweet wormwood plant produces in its leaves, is an ancient malaria remedy. In recent years, artemisinin-based drugs have become mainstays against the parasite when combined with another drug (SN: 6/16/2007, p. 381). Current artemisinin production requires growing the plants for months, removing and drying the leaves and extracting the artemisinin. But a combination of problems that include fluctuations in raw material prices and too few manufacturers has led to supply uncertainties and price volatility, according to a 2012 report in Malaria Journal.

The authors of the new study say their findings “pave the way for an industrial process capable of supplementing the world supply of artemisinin from a second source independent of the uncertainties associated with botanical production.”

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