SCIENTISTS have developed a new method to synthesize artemisinin, a compound for making anti-malarial medicines, Shanghai Jiao Tong University announced today.
The finding is vital for mass production of an artemisinin drug which can save lives of millions of malaria patients worldwide, the university said.
Artemisinin was found an effective cure for malaria in the 1970s, but it's very hard to extract it from Sweet Wormwood or Qinghao in Chinese name, a herbal plant with bright yellow flowers.
The high cost of extraction makes the drug a luxury for most patients, said Zhang Wanbin, a lead researcher and a professor of the university.
His research team found a catalyst which enables the extraction of artemisinin from the herb's yellow flowers without other chemical condition.
The new method is expected to increase artemisinin extraction by 1.5 times and slash the cost by more than half, Zhang said.
About 3.3 billion people - half of the world's population - are at risk of malaria, according to the World Health Organization.
In 2010, about 216 million malaria cases and an estimated 655 000 malaria deaths were reported worldwide, WHO said.