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Gates’ $14m to beat malaria
BILL Gates, the world's richest man, has given plant scientists in York nearly $14million to help in their race to develop better and cheaper treatments for malaria.
The researchers at the University Of York's Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) will use the cash to develop new varieties of the plant Sweet Annie, which produces the anti-malarial drug artemisinin.
Artemisinin, when used in combination with other drugs, is the most effective treatment that exists for malaria, according to the World Health Organisation.
But yields of the drug are very low and demand, fuelled by the growing resistance of the malaria parasite to traditional single-drug treatments, such as chloroquine, is growing. Up to 500 million doses of the newer, combination treatment, known as Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACT), could be needed.
The York researchers hope to produce varieties of Sweet Annie that produce five or ten times as much of the drug.
If successful, their efforts could ultimately help to save millions of lives many of them children in Africa.
"This work could lead directly to making an effective cure for malaria cheaper and more accessible for people who need it most," said CNAP director Prof Dianna Bowles today.
"It is fantastic news," added CNAP deputy director Prof Ian Graham. "The potential is there to save millions of lives. It is a very sobering thought. We feel a huge responsibility in taking on this project."
The $13.6million Gates Foundation award is one of the first major grants to be announced since the Microsoft boss revealed last week he was stepping down from the company he founded with Paul Allen in 1975 to concentrate on his charitable work.
It also cements the growing reputation of CNAP as one of the leading centres of plant research in the world.
"This is a very significant grant for the Department of Biology and is an indication of the all-round excellence of research here," said the university vice-chancellor Prof Brian Cantor.
CNAP will use the Gates Foundation cash to recruit up to 30 researchers and technicians.
Over the next four-and-a-half years in the glasshouses at the university, they will use a fast-track breeding method, which does not involve GM technology, to develop new varieties of Sweet Annie that produce up to ten times as much artemisinin as normal varieties.
Ultimately, with the help of Swiss non-for-profit organisation Mediplant, these will be used as breeding stock to produce new Sweet Annie crops that can be grown by farmers around the world, so ensuring a plentiful supply of cheap artemisinin.
Dr Regina Rabinovich, the Gates Foundation's director of infectious diseases, said: "This promising research complements other important initiatives working to meet the urgent need for inexpensive, effective malaria treatments. (These) treatments could help save millions of lives in Africa."