Yissum Seeks Partner for Malaria Drug

A novel method allowing artemisinin production in a heterologous plant system, such as tobacco, developed by Professor Alexander Vainstein, has been published under the title Generation of the Potent Anti-Malarial Drug Artemisinin in Tobacco in the latest issue of the prestigious publication Nature Biotechnology.

Combating malaria is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals described in the United Nations Millennium Declaration signed by all UN members at the year 2000. A key intervention to control malaria is prompt and effective treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies. Artemisinin is a natural compound from Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood) plants, but low-cost artemisinin-based drugs are lacking because of the high cost of obtaining the natural or chemically synthesized drug. Despite extensive efforts invested in the last decade in metabolic engineering of the drug in both microbial and heterologous plant systems, production of artemisinin itself was never achieved.

Professor Vainstein and his graduate student Mr. Moran Farhi have developed genetically engineered tobacco plants carrying genes encoding the entire biochemical pathway necessary for producing artemisinin. In light of tobacco’s high biomass and rapid growth, this invention will enable a cheap production of large quantities of the drug, paving the way for the development of a sustainable plant-based platform for the commercial production of an anti-malarial drug. The invention is patented by Yissum, which is now seeking a partner for its further development.

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