Berlin (dpa) – Researchers in Germany claimed on Wednesday that they have found a faster, more efficient and more environmentally friendly way to produce the main active ingredient for anti-malarial drugs.
“This development has the potential to save millions of lives,” said Peter Seeberger, director of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, about an hour’s drive west of Berlin.
The key to improving the current method of producing artemisinin, the main ingredient, was discovered by 27-year-old doctoral student Susanne Triemer, who figured out how to copy and speed up the natural process used by the sweet wormwood plant to produce the ingredient. According to the institute, the method takes less than 15 minutes.
However, other experts refrained from celebrating the news just yet. Juergen May, from Hamburg’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, said he would be thrilled if his colleagues had indeed made a breakthrough. However, “revolutions are seen primarily a few years later – in retrospect,” he added. A real revolution would have been the discovery of a new synthetic substance against malaria, he said.
“There’s the danger that artemisinin is not the cure-all in the future,” he said. There are already warning signs in South-East Asia, where the parasite is beginning to develop a resistance to it.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) echoed May’s opinion. “New means of fighting malaria must be developed,” said Marco Alves, an MSF medication campaign coordinator in Germany, adding that research should therefore focus more heavily on new drugs rather than the old.