Ever since artemisinin and artemisinin-containing combination treatments for malaria became widely available in the early 2000s, the supply of the drugs has been constrained by the need to extract artemisinin from the plant Artemisia annua, and on the long growing and production cycle (up to 18 months). The recent press release from Sanofi and PATH concerning the first commercial use of semi-synthetic artemisinin is a major step forward in stabilising the market for artemisinin. The problems of this market have been discussed in several TMPC reports and publications (e.g. RBM AMFm Landscape Paper, 2012 – http://www.tropmedpharma.com/89/ ) and elsewhere.
Now that semi-synthetic artemisinin is available, it is to be hoped that the wild swings in price and availability will be greatly reduced. However one should be careful about assuming that the problems are completely over. The capacity that Sanofi has to produce this material is still only a proportion of the total global demand for artemisinin. PATH estimate that it will only account for one-third of the global demand (http://www.path.org/projects/artemisinin.php). The photochemical technique needed to synthesise the semi-synthetic product is not an easy one to replicate and so Sanofi may remain the only supplier for some time to come. There will remain a significant market for plant-derived artemisinin, and the global community needs to ensure that this message is well received by both growers and extractors.
The full press release can be found at: http://www.path.org/news/press-room/422/