US scientists on Wednesday said they had used baker’s yeast to make a key ingredient of malaria drugs, a feat that could iron out fluctuations in supply caused by sourcing the chemical from a Chinese herb.
One of the revolutions in malaria treatment in recent decades has been the advent of artemisinin drugs, whose active ingredient comes from a traditional Chinese herb, Artemisia annua.
But weather can affect harvests of the plant, causing shortages and price spikes.
In a study published in Nature, a team led by Chris Paddon of Amyris Inc., a biotech firm based in Emeryville, California, reported on a way to ferment artemisinic acid — a precursor to artemisinin — from genetically-engineered baker’s yeast.
Their technique derives 25 grammes of concentrate from a litre of artemisinic acid. A previous attempt, reported by a European team last year, made only 1.6 grammes per litre.