Tu Youyou’s Nobel Prize for Her Anti-Malaria Drug Inspires China’s Pharmaceutical Firms to Innovate and Improve

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Chinese scientist Tu Youyou’s Nobel Prize win has inspired many in China’s pharmaceutical sector, with companies now more keen to grab a greater share of the anti-malaria drug market and producers encouraged to go deeper into studying traditional Chinese medicine’s possible applications in modern science.

Tu earlier this month won the Nobel Prize for medicine for her discovery of artemisinin, a drug based on traditional Chinese herbal medicine and that is now part of standard anti-malarial regimens.

Artemisinin – which the World Health Organisation designated as a “first tie” drug in the fight against malaria, a deadly mosquito-borne infectious disease, a decade ago – has saved tens of millions of lives in Africa.

But it has not brought China huge profits, because no domestic company or institution had applied for a patent ownership for the medicine, which is recognised globally as the sole drug invented by a Chinese.

Yunnan-based KPC Pharmaceuticals vice-president Xu Zhaoneng said the annual global revenue of artemisinin and its derivative products was US$1.5 billion (HK$11.6 billion), but sales from Chinese drug producers accounted for only 1 per cent of that. Most domestic firms provide raw materials for the drug, which is derived from the sweet wormwood plant.

KPC is China’s biggest grower of sweet wormwood. It supplies artemether – a derivative chemical of artemisinin – to Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, one of several foreign firms that make and sell anti-malaria drugs.


Source: South China Morning Post (link opens in a new window)

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