Enter the drugs as a possible treatment for the corona virus, artemisinin appears, present in the grass Artemis annua. There are many natural health professionals who are calling on the international scientific community for more research on this herb in relation to COVID-19
The history of artemisinin
Artemisin is a drug was discovered thanks to the Chinese communist leaderMao Tse-Tung, as part of its aid to the then North Vietnamese regime in the war against South Vietnam and its North American allies. The war was taking place in jungles, infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
After the Vietnam War, the drug languished for thirty years as a result not only of the war and the isolation of the Chinese communist regime, but also of the disinterest of the International Health Agencies and Western pharmaceutical laboratories.
In 1960,Mao responded to the request for help from the Communist leader of North Vietnam,Hṓ Chi Minh, who was looking for antimalarial drugs for his troops, because the parasites had become resistant to the drugs in use.Mao He tried to respond immediately to the request for help. But it was not easy. The Cultural Revolution was out of control: intellectuals, including scientists, were publicly humiliated, forced to work in agricultural work; and even induced to suicide. However, since the order came from Mao the project was carried out. Over the next 14 years, more than 500 scientists from 60 civilian and military institutes flocked to the communist leader's call.
The malaria problem also affected the soldiers of South Vietnam and their North American allies. HeWalter Reed Army Institute of Research he was also involved in the search for new antimalarial drugs. Their work led to the synthesis of Mefloquine, registered under the trade name Lariam®.
Mefloquine is a powerful antimalarial drug, but it is not without serious drawbacks, including nightmares and paranoia. In 2003, dozens of American soldiers contracted malaria during their intervention in the Liberian War, but they refused to take Mefloquine because several soldiers who returned from Afghanistan in 2002, and who had taken the drug, murdered their wives, a circumstance that was linked to mental alterations triggered by taking the antimalarial drug.
China officially began its research program after a meeting on May 23, 1967, calling it Project 523 (for the date, month 5, day 23).
The scientists involved in Project 523 followed two lines of research: one group studied around 40,000 chemicals with potential utility; and another group inquired into traditional medicine, consulting among rural healers about the remedies they used to treat fever.
A herbaceous plant,qinghao, was mentioned in the funerary sculptures dating from 168 BC. (according to western dating), with favorable references in the medical manuscripts of later centuries, appearing in the "Book of Seasonal Fevers" of the year 1786 (according to the Justinian Calendar, predecessor of the current Gregorian Calendar).Qinghao is the plantArtemisia annua (sweet wormwood), an herb with pointed leaves and yellow flowers.
As early as the 1950s, malaria outbreaks were treated in the regions of China affected by "seasonal fevers", as they were called, by means of a tea made withQinghao. During the investigation, nine other traditional remedies with some degree of antimalarial efficacy were also considered, including pepper.
Research carried out on the basis of extracts fromQinghao They tried to isolate the compound responsible for the antimalarial activity, to find out which variety of the plant (or under what edaphological conditions) produced the greatest amount of active principle; as well as knowing if it spread to nervous tissue (to treat cerebral malaria), and in what form it could be formulated (tablets, injectables or suppositories).
Despite the Chinese technological backwardness, in 1970, the active principle was discovered, which was initially calledqinghaosu, and now Artemisinin. Its chemical structure is a sesquiterpene lactone with a peroxide bridge (see two-dimensional chemical structure at the beginning of the article). The first trials were carried out in about 2,000 patients, with spectacular results: Artemisinin killed the malaria parasites with surprising speed.
However, Artemisinin is cleared from the body very quickly, resulting in exposure to plasmodia not being long enough to remove the entire parasite load. Currently a combination with Mefloquine is used, with a more sustained action over time. But for this association to be feasible, political agreements were needed. One of the results of the visit of the American PresidentRichard Nixon toPeking (Beijing, in the current phonetic transcription following the systempinyin) was the possibility of uniting both active principles (Artemisinin and Mefloquine) to combat malaria more effectively.
Zhang Jianfang, one of the participants in Project 523 reported some not very sobering details, about petty disputes between researchers, street fights during the Cultural Revolution that prompted scientists to work in basements, feeding on black rice and vegetables during their travels to remote rural towns in mountainous tropical China, while other colleagues were forced to travel toHanoi(then the capital of North Vietnam, today the capital of reunified Vietnam), integrated into patrols of theVietcong (The Note Vietnam Army).
Hṓ Chi Minh (the leader of North Vietnam whose request for help had triggered everything) had died in 1969 at his home inHanoi; YMao Zedong died in 1976. Project 523 continued until 1981, when it literally went into disarray.
In 1979,Keith arnold, a malaria researcher based inHong Kong (then a British colony) that collaborated in the development of Mefloquine managed to study the drug in the interior of the People's Republic of China. He met withLi Guoquiao, who was conducting tests on Artemisinin variants. Within the official clandestinity, comparative clinical trials of both drugs (trialshead-to-head, in statistical jargon). As Dr.Arnold the results with Artemisinin impressed him favorably.
News that a Yugoslav chemist was experimenting with Chinese absinthe motivated the World Health Organization to take an interest in various Chinese medical publications in 1977.
In 1982, the British medical journalThe Lancet, published an article signed by Chinese researchers. Due to the scientific interest of the publication, it was awarded, although the check (in British pounds) could not be cashed by the Chinese scientists.
During the 1980s,Keith arnold found thatArtemisia annua grew on the banks of the riverPotomac (running through the metropolitan area ofWashington DF), managing to prepare Artemisinin from plant extracts. However, interest in the drug waned. The World Health Organization did not support research on the active substance until 2000; and Artemisinin only became widely available after 2006. What reasons explain this delay? The orbit of power in China was quite disorganized. Various laboratories, inside and outside of China, were working on Artemisinin derivatives. But the communist regime did not accept international patent policy, in such a way that the western pharmaceutical multinationals would not achieve a monopoly on the active principle, androyalties associates. Furthermore, malaria was (and continues to be) a disease of the poor; and in those years there were no significant donations from Foundations, of whichBill & Melinda Gates Foundation they are part.
The International Aid Agencies could not purchase medicines that had not been approved by the World Health Organization. During years,Keith arnold He tried to get permission for Chinese scientists to carry out clinical trials on Artemisinin in Thailand and Vietnam, but the World Health Organization remained elusive. As an Agency belonging to the United Nations, its decision-making capacity is very limited. And it must be remembered that during the 1990s, the United Nations was immersed, as never before, in internal struggles that undermined its integrity and ethics. And meanwhile, about a million children die each year from malaria, in Africa alone. A true genocide to which the West attended with indifference.
The Swiss pharmaceutical multinationalNovartis acquired a Chinese patent on a mixture of Artemeter, a derivative of Artemisinin, and Lumefantrine, another Chinese drug, patenting the association in Western countries. This association is marketed under two registered names: Riamet® (sold at a high price to tourists and the military); and since 2001, Coartem® has been sold at manufacturing cost to the World Health Organization, which distributes it to poor countries. The money for the acquisition of Coartem® by the World Health Organization comes from theGlobal Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, created in 2002; and of thePresident’s Malaria Initiative, created in 2005, under the Presidency ofGeorge Walker Bush. Currently 150 million doses are sold annually to poor countries.
In 2009, some surviving researchers from Project 523 along with other foreigners began to dispute the intellectual benefits of the important discovery. So,Zhou Yiquing obtained from the European Patent Office the recognition "Inventors of the Year" by Coartem®.
In September 2011,You youyou, former head of the Chinese Institute of Materia Medica, received theLasker Award and the associated emoluments ($ 250,000). TheLasker Award they often precede the award of the Nobel Prize. For this reason, they are called the "North American Nobel".
The personalization of this important award has not sat well with many scientists, who argue that behind the discovery of Artemisinin there are countless professionals, who should also be recognized.
The award of the Nobel Prize is unlikely for several reasons: the statutes prohibit awarding a Prize to more than three people at the same time, and never posthumously. And furthermore, there are those who would see it as the international approval of a tyrannical regime.
By Dr. José Manuel López Tricas
Specialist Pharmacist Hospital Pharmacy