Posted on 22 October 2015
On 5 October 2015, Chinese scientist Youyou Tu was awarded the Nobel prize in Medicine for her role in creating a drug that helped slash malaria mortality rates in Africa and Asia, saving millions of lives. In the years after this discovery, Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs) became the World Health Organisation recommended treatment for malaria.
ACTs have been used as a cure for malaria since Tu's discovery in the late 1970s. The drug is derived from the plant Artemisia annua, also known as sweet wormwood. Although demand for ACTs escalated since the early 2000s, it remained expensive and unprofitable for farmers to produce Artemisia annua.
That was why the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at the University of York, set up a research project in 2006 to increase world-wide availability and quality of Artemisia annua. The project aimed to reach sustainable quantities of high yielding Artemisia annua hybrid seed. The project was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In 2012, international seed company East-West Seed and CNAP teamed up to build a robust supply chain for the production of the Artemisia plant. The hybrid variety developed by CNAP is produced by East-West Seed, which also markets the new variety in China and Africa.
The production and commercialization of hybrid Artemisia annua varieties form the basis of a robust supply chain for plant-based malaria treatment. This, in turn, contributes to the availability and worldwide access to Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs).
Bert van der Feltz, CEO of East West Seed: "We are pleased to be in a position to produce and supply F1 hybrid seed for this essential medicinal crop. We share in the commitment of CNAP and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate malaria globally. I am thankful that we can contribute to saving millions of lives through this partnership."
In 2013, 392 million ACT treatment courses were delivered to both public and the private sectors in 79 endemic countries.
East-West Seed's artemisia seed sales to Africa in 2015 have doubled compared to 2014. To date, seed sales have the potential to deliver over 200 million artemisinin combination therapy treatments.
Earlier this year, the leading CNAP hybrid, Hyb8001r, was officially registered in China. With China being the world's largest grower of Artemisia, the plant can now contribute even more to the global production of the antimalarial drug.
East-West Seed is market leader for tropical vegetable seeds in Asia. The family-owned company has played an important role in the development and improvement of tropical vegetable varieties in Southeast Asia and beyond. When he founded the company in 1982, Dutch Seedsman Simon Groot set out to improve the income of smallholder farmers in the tropics through high-quality seeds. East-West Seed develops vegetable varieties that are adapted to tropical growing conditions and generate increased yield and productivity for farmers. In addition, the company educates farmers and helps them to maximize their yield and income through better knowledge on vegetable production.
East-West Seed is one of the 10 largest vegetable seed companies in the world. It claims market leadership in the most important Southeast Asian countries and is expanding rapidly into India, Myanmar, Vietnam and parts of Africa and South America. The company exports to over 60 countries in tropical areas of the world. East-West Seed is based in Thailand, employing over 4.000 people and has R&D establishments in 7 countries. The company serves over 18 million farmers around the world.
The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) is dedicated to realising the potential of plants as renewable, low-cost factories that produce high-value chemicals and biofuels. Laboratory based discoveries are translated into practice in partnership with industry. For more information visit: www.york.ac.uk/org/cnap/
In 2010 the researchers published the first genetic map of Artemisia annua. www.york.ac.uk/org/cnap/artemisiaproject
Details of the specific hybrid, 8001r are available at: www.artemisiaf1seed.org
Further information is available from project manager, Dr Caroline Calvert - firstname.lastname@example.org