11/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

New Momentum on Malaria

This week at the UN General Assembly meeting, African leaders launched an ambitious new anti-malaria campaign - The African Leaders Malaria Alliance - to eliminate all preventable malaria deaths on the continent by 2015.

Another collaborative effort to combat malaria--the Artemisinin Project--was also recently in the news in an article by The New Yorker on synthetic biology: A LIFE OF ITS OWN: Where will synthetic biology lead us?"

The Artemisinin Project is a unique, public-private-nonprofit collaboration that is based on an innovative idea: using synthetic biology to address global health challenges. Its goal is to develop a new source of artemisinin for artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) and make it available to meet global demand so we can achieve the goal of no preventable deaths from malaria by 2015.

Since late 2004, OneWorld Health, UC Berkeley and Amyris have been working together as the Artemisinin Project to develop a new, low-cost technology platform to provide non-seasonal, high-quality and affordable artemisinin - semisynthetic artemisinin - a key ingredient in first-line treatments for malaria. The Artemisinin Project is based on breakthrough technology invented by Professor Jay Keasling at the University of California, Berkeley. Sanofi-aventis joined the collaboration in 2008. OneWorld Health received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the partnership's goals and for each partner to play a unique contributing role.

Synthetic biology is a brand new area of biotechnology. The goal is to use genetic engineering technology to build brand new biological machines and processes de novo. It's an exciting area that has tremendous potential.

If technical milestones can be achieved, at commercial scale, this complementary artemisinin source would supplement the botanical supply that is currently extracted from the wormwood plant (Artemisia annua) and ensure enough artemisinin for ACTs to treat the more than 500 million estimated individuals who contract malaria each year. It would also improve the availability of high-quality artemisinin derivatives to drug manufacturers and contribute to stabilizing the price of artemisinin-containing antimalarials for the benefit of patients and payers.

Increasing the stability of the artemisinin supply is crucial to making ACTs more affordable and accessible, and reducing risks of shortages and price fluctuations. The Artemisinin Project believes this supply chain problem can be best solved by a diversified, stable supply of artemisinin from both botanical and synthetic sources that is adequate to meet worldwide demand. That means farmers and scientists working together to create enough anti-malarial medication for all who need it.