- The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT) as the most effective treatment for malaria. Worldwide demand is on the upswing.
- OneWorld Health led the effort to develop a new commercial-scale manufacturing process to produce semisynthetic artemisinin, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
- The pilot project had many high-profile participants, including Dr. Jay Keasling at the University of California, Berkeley -- who did the synthetic biology work -- French giant Sanofi, and Amyris, a synthetic biology firm.
Sanofi has publicly stated that it is “committed to producing semisynthetic artemisinin using a no-profit, no-loss production model, helping to maintain a low price for developing countries.” There is an intense and ongoing need for a stable ACT supply -- there were 207 million malaria cases in 2012, and roughly 650,000 people die from the disease every year.
Industrial production of semisynthetic artemisinin involves fermentation followed by synthetic transformation of artemisinin acid into artemisinin. Sanofi is ramping up production from 35 tons last year, to 50 to 60 tons this year, for a total of up to 150 million ACT treatments.