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New Total Synthesis Of Key Antimalaria Agent

Cascade-reaction approach could lead to affordable, fully synthetic artemisinin

by Stu Borman
August 20, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 34

A new total synthesis provides a blueprint for producing the malaria drug (+)-artemisinin more affordably (J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja3061479). Artemisinin is the most effective drug for malaria, which kills up to 1 million people each year. Currently produced from the wormwood plant, artemisinin is too expensive and its supply too variable to meet world needs consistently. A semisynthetic process that starts with a precursor made in microbes is being developed, but total synthesis has not been considered a viable route because of the molecular complexity of artemisinin. Now, Chunyin Zhu and Silas P. Cook at Indiana University, Bloomington, have used a series of cascade reactions to produce artemisinin on a gram scale from cyclohexenone. The synthesis can be conducted in a five-pot sequence that is more efficient than any previous total synthesis. “All of the building blocks needed for this synthesis are exceptionally cheap and available on a metric-ton scale,” Cook says. “Is this chemistry ready for supplying the world with artemisinin? No. But with some further reaction engineering, it very well could be.”


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