Malaria Beware!

February 2019

The World Health Organization estimates that malaria claimed 445,000 lives in 2016. What is particularly tragic about this statistic is that effective anti-malarial drugs exist but are too expensive for the people who need them most.

However, scientists in Eastern Germany have now developed a production process that could save millions of lives.

Quite simply, it makes artemisinin – the key component of the most effective anti-malarial drugs – in a more inexpensive, efficient, and eco-friendly way. The new process, jointly developed at the Magdeburg-based Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems and the Potsdam-based Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, takes its catalyst directly from the annual wormwood plant and allows artemisinin to be synthesized in less than 15 minutes, rather than the three weeks it takes under natural conditions.

ArtemiFlow, a spin-off launched by Max Planck researchers, will now use the process to produce artemisinin on an industrial scale.

Artemia annua (Qinghaosu) seeds, oil, and dried leaves. The plant contains a compound called artemisinin, which has anti-malarial properties. © API/GAMMA-RAPHO/laif