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Chinese medicine

Artemisinin is a sesquiterpene lactone, a natural compound which is exclusively synthesized in the Artemisia annua plant. Artemisinin has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fevers and malaria. Malaria is an infectious disease which is endemic in 109 countries, caused by protozoan parasites of the Plasmodium genus, transmitted by mosquitoes. The growing resistance of the Plasmodium parasite to other anti-malarial treatments (such as quinine and its derivatives) meant other strategies were required to reduce the incidence of malaria.

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Nobel Prize

It was Tu Youyou, a researcher investigating traditional Chinese medicine, who discovered that this Artemisia annua extract was potentially efficient against malaria. This turned out to be one of the major discoveries in Medicine in the 20th century, so much so, that Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015 for her work.

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WHO & malaria

In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a specific initiative targeting malaria using Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACT). ACT combines artemisinin with another antimalarial compound that has a different biochemical mode of action so as to avoid, or at least try to avoid, resistance development by the Plasmodium parasite. ACT is, until now, the most potent and efficient antimalarial available.

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Over the past decade, hundreds of scientific studies have been carried out to elucidate the enormous therapeutic potential of artemisinin to treat not just malaria, but many other very different diseases that include cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory (multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis), dermatological (seborrheic dermatitis) and rare diseases (Lyme disease and schistosomiasis). These diseases affect a total of 1.500 million people annually.