An affordable way to treat malaria

BERKELEY, CA P> A Berkeley researcher appears to have made a major big breakthrough for a more affordable way of treating malaria.

Of all the commodities in San Francisco's Chinatown, here is one that most of us are not likely to buy.

It's an obscure herb known as 'wormwood.'

"It was first discovered about 150 bc where they used it first for hemorrhoids, and then later to treat fevers," said UC Berkeley scientists Jay Keasling.

Jay Keasling, a professor of chemical engineering at UC Berkeley, had one particular fever in mind – malaria, which affects between 300 and 500 million people around the world at any given time.

Since the 1960's, doctors have treated it with an expensive extract from the wormwood plant known as Artemisinin.

But for victims who make $1 a day, a $2 dollar per dose drug remained out of reach until now.

"This bacterium takes in a sugar, and it spits out the Artemisinin," said Dr. Keasling.

DR. Keasling has found a way to inject genes into microbes, causing them to produce a synthetic version of the drug.

"It's not so simple. This took us 150 person years to complete. So that means we had about fifty people working over a period of three years," said Keasling.

Essentially, we're talking about making drug factories on a microscopic level; genes manipulating bacteria and not just to cure malaria.

"Besides producing cheap drugs, we are developing fuels, we can produce flavors and fragrances, we can produce other drugs for the developed world," said Dr. Keasling.

Dr. Keasling paid for this new malaria drug with a $42 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The university has agreed to give the technology away for free, because of all the good it will cause.

When production ramps up, a dose may cost 25 cents. It is an affordable cure around the world for people who sincerely need it.

"The motivation is to do things for people who don't have other people doing things for them," said Keasling.

Copyright © 2019 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.