Scientists at England's University of Liverpool have created a synthetic anti-malaria drug by copying the chemical structure of artemisinin, the plant-derived ingredient of existing medicine against the mosquito-borne disease.

Prof. Paul O'Neill of UL's Department of Chemistry and his team developed a technique to synthesize artemisinin and fuse it with a cage of organic molecules to make it chemically stable in the body. The stabilizer enables the synthetic artemisinin to last longer in an infected body and prevent malaria parasite from reappearing.

We have created a new drug that is easily absorbed by the body, chemically stable and highly potent. It is made from very simple organic materials and therefore will be more cost-effective to mass produce than current therapies, quoted O'Neill as saying.

O'Neill said current artemisinin drugs derived from the sweet wormwood tree are limited in quantity because it is difficult to mass produce, are poorly absorbed orally and are very expensive.

The synthetic artemisinin is now being tested as a prelude to clinical trials. The funding for the tests amounts to £1.5 million.

The Institute for OneWorld Health and drugmaker Sanofi-aventis have also developed a semi-synthetic artemisinin and is preparing for its large-scale production and commercialization by 2012 through a $10.7 million additional grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The semi-synthetic artemisinin is derived from genetically altered bacteria.