In Praise of Artemisinin and Avermectin

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to three scientists in the fight against parasitic diseases.  Youyou Tu (China) discovered artemisinin, which is used to treat malaria.  William C. Campbell (Ireland and America) and Satoshi Ōmura (Japan) discovered avermectin, which is used to treat onchocerciasis (African River Blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).  Together, they have saved countless lives around the world.

Both are natural product medicines.  Artemisinin is derived from sweet wormwood, a Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Avermectin is produced by a bacterium found in the soil.

The stories behind the discoveries are remarkable.  Ōmura found avermectin by culturing a bacterium collected near a golf course in Japan.  Tu’s laboratory screened more than 2,000 traditional Chinese recipes and made 380 herbal extracts before discovering sweet wormwood contained an ingredient that was active against malaria.

As a global leader in life sciences, Agilent provides technologies and solutions used in the research of natural products and Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Agilent has provided support to Tu’s research center, the China Academy of Chinese Medical Science, for several years.  The center currently uses Agilent liquid chromatography, gas chromatography, LC/MS and GC/MS systems.

Agilent is also involved in ongoing research work with artemisinin and avermectin.  Agilent high-performance liquid chromatographs and columns provide a fast and reliable solution for isolating artemisinin from the Artemisia annua plant.  An Agilent GC has been used to research the key active gene in artemisinin that fights malaria.

Similarly, an Agilent LC and autosampler system has been used to test the chronic effects of ivermectin, the drug derived from avermectin.  And an Agilent HPLC has been used to identify and characterize process impurities in both avermectin and ivermectin.

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