Synthetic Biology May Not Increase Global Access to Affordable Anti-Malarial Drugs

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) to treat malaria. Artemisinin is extracted from a plant. However, in April, 2013, a consortium led by the international, nonprofit organization for global health, NGO Path, announced that it had used synthetic biology to produce “semi-synthetic artemisinin.” The consortium claimed that the breakthrough would help increase global access to affordable anti-malarial drugs.

However, Sanofi, pharmaceutical firm and member of the consortium, will charge a price comparable to that of the original agricultural product. In addition, Sanofi intends to produce enough semi-synthetic artemisinin to meet only 1/3 of the world’s demand for anti-malarial drugs. Sanofi received $50 million dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for research and development of the product, and does not have to pay royalties on the patents—which are held by other members of the consortium.

Read more here.

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