A decades’-long struggle to produce a synthetic version of one the world’s favored drugs for treating malaria, artemisinin, was celebrated as a victory for poor people. But now is being criticized as an assault on poor farmers. Global supply of artemisinin, which until now has been produced from harvest of the plant sweet wormwood, has been erratic in both quantity and supply. Hundreds of millions of people fall ill with malaria every year with an estimated 650,000 deaths — mostly in children.
The goal of this project, led by Seattle-based PATH in collaboration with the French drug firm Sanofi, was to supplement the global supply with this synthetic version. PATH officials told me that Sanofi’s ultimate production goal would likely only meet one-third of the global need, but the scientist who developed the synthetic drug said the goal is to totally replace dependence on the natural crop.