Malaria is one of the world’s most serious public health problems, claiming almost a million lives every year and undermining development in some of the world’s poorest countries. A UK science lab has been fighting against malaria for years - through plant breeding.
At present, the most effective cure for malaria is Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs), whose active ingredient is artemisinin, extracted from the plant Artemisia annua. However, quality Artemisia seeds are scarce and the world’s total production of artemisinin is struggling to meet rising global demand for ACTs.
Through a marker-assisted breeding programme, and after a series of field trials in different parts of the world, the Centre for Novel Agricutural Products (CNAP) at the University of York has developed new varieties of Artemesia annua seeds, which not only yield high quality artemesinin, but are robust, resistant to pests and diseases, and perform well under a range of regional agricultural practices. However, Professor Diana Bowles has all along argued that a scientist's job is not merely to develop the new plant variety, but to get it out into the hands of those who need it.
CNAP has now partnered with a commercial seed organisation, East-West Seed, to produce their new varieties in commerical quantities. This new supply of improved seed will help build up a robust supply chain for the production of Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs), the World Health Organisation recommended treatment for malaria.
Through the partnership, large-scale commercialization and distribution of the seeds to Artemisia growers are expected in 2012, targeting 20% of the global Artemisia cultivation acreage. Annual global demand for ACTs is expected to increase beyond the current level of 250 million treatments to up to 310 million by 2015 and the new high yielding seeds will help achieve the strategic aims of universal coverage of ACTs and access to treatments.
This provides an excellent opportunity for the new Artemisia varieties developed at York to make a real difference to the fight against malaria