December 27, 2011, Updated February 12, 2014

Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientists have come up with a novel technology for manufacturing an anti-malaria drug in tobacco.

Professor Alexander Vainstein — from the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the HU– and his graduate student Moran Farhi discovered a method that allows for the production of artemisinin – the herb used in cancer and malaria drugs — in a heterologous plant system, such as tobacco.

Medical communities around the globe agree that a key intervention to control malaria is prompt and effective treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies. But low-cost artemisinin-based drugs are lacking because of the high cost of obtaining the natural or chemically synthesized drug.

Vainstein and Farhi have developed genetically engineered tobacco plants carrying genes encoding the entire biochemical pathway necessary for producing artemisinin.

The invention is patented by Yissum Research Development Company, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The research was recently published in Nature Biotechnology.

“Professor Vainstein’s technology provides, for the first time, the opportunity for manufacturing affordable artemisinin by using tobacco plants,” said Yaacov Michlin, CEO of Yissum. “We hope that this invention will eventually help control this prevalent disease, for the benefit of many millions of people around the globe, and in particular in the developing world.”

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Jason Harris

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