Two years ago, researchers from Berkeley have been able to engineer the E.coli bacteria to produce amorphadiene, a precursor to the anti-malarial drug artemisinin. This time, in a short corrrespondence published in the current issue of Nature, researchers describe the production of yet another artemisinin precursor, artemisic acid, using genetically modified yeast cells. Because of the procedure’s potential in cutting artemisinin production costs, plans have already been set up for its industrial production. Institute for OneWorld Health, a non-profit firm based in San Francisco, California, is in partnership with Amyris Biotechnologies, their work being backed with $42.6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Concerns are still rampant, however, that artemisin-resistance will evolve, eventually leaving the potent drug ineffective against malaria. Early this year, WHO urged firms to help prevent the emergence of resistance by stopping the sales of the drug as a stand-alone therapy to malaria.
Clearly, research, not only for cheaper and more efficient drug production of antimalarials are needed. The search for other anti-malaria drugs and vaccines must continue.