A faster, more efficient and more environmentally friendly way of producing the main active ingredient for anti-malarial drugs has been found, researchers in Germany on Wednesday claim.

Peter Seeberger, Director of Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, about an hour’s drive west of Berlin, said “this development has the potential to save millions of lives”.

The key to improving the current method of producing artemisinin, the main ingredient, was discovered by 27-year-old doctoral student, Susanne Triemer, who figured out how to copy and speed up the natural process used by the sweet wormwood plant to produce the ingredient.

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According to the institute, the method takes less than 15 minutes.

However, other experts refrained from celebrating the news for different reasons which they also put forward.

Juergen May from Hamburg’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, said he would be thrilled if his colleagues had indeed made a breakthrough.

However, “revolutions are seen primarily a few years later – in retrospect,” he added.

He believes a real revolution would have been the discovery of a new synthetic substance against malaria.

“There’s the danger that artemisinin is not the cure-all in the future,” he highlighted.

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There are already warning signs in South-East Asia, where the parasite is beginning to develop a resistance to it.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) echoed May’s opinion, saying “new means of fighting malaria must be developed”.

The MSF Medication Campaign Coordinator in Germany, Marco Alves, said research should, therefore, focus more heavily on new drugs rather than the old.

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