University wins grant for anti-malaria research

21 Jun 2006

A British university said on Wednesday it had a received a $13.6 million (7.4 million pound) grant for research into alleviating a global shortage of treatments for malaria.

The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, part of the University of York, said the money would help fund a fast-track breeding research programme for the plant Artemisia annua -- the source of the leading anti-malarial drug artemisinin.

Malaria, caused by the one-celled parasite carried by mosquitoes called plasmodium, kills at least one million people every year and makes 300 million people seriously ill.

Ninety percent of malaria deaths occur in Africa, south of the Sahara, mostly among young children.

Artemisinin is the drug of choice for treating multi-drug resistant strains of plasmodium species. But the drug, which comes from the wormwood plant Artemisia annua, is expensive and supplies are limited, meaning that many malaria patients in developing countries go untreated.

"The goal of the research is to create a non-GM variety of the plant with greatly increased yields of artemisinin," CNAP said in a statement.

The CNAP grant was given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- a trust funded by Microsoft Corp.'s billionaire founder Bill Gates to promote health and education projects around the world -- and covers a four-and-a-half year period.

"This work could lead directly to making an effective cure for malaria cheaper and more accessible for people who need it most," Dianna Bowles, Director of CNAP, said in a statement.

Artemisia annua grows wild in Britain, where it is sometimes called Sweet Annie. The plant has been used as a treatment for malaria in its native China for more than 400 years.