Latest information on vaccines and campus operations Roadrunner Roadmap
Saturday, May 15, 2021

UTSA, SwRI grant to fund work to reduce cost of malaria treatment

UTSA, SwRI grant to fund work to reduce cost of malaria treatment

JULY 27, 2020 — UTSA and Southwest Research Institute are working to synthesize novel highly potent derivatives of the antimalarial drug artemisinin with the goal of creating a powerful, cost-effective malaria treatment.

Led by Doug Frantz of the Department of Chemistry in UTSA’s College of Sciences and Shawn Blumberg of SwRI’s Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division, the work is supported by a $125,000 grant from the Connecting through Research Partnerships (CONNECT) program.

In 2018 Blumberg and Frantz collaborated on a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a more efficient synthesis of artemisinin, a drug derived from the sweet wormwood. While artemisinin is considered the most effective treatment for malaria, the mosquito-borne parasitic infection is becoming harder to battle as it becomes increasingly resistant to drugs like artemisinin.

“Malaria affects 200 million people every year and kills close to 400,000 people, making it one of the world’s most deadly infectious diseases,” Blumberg said. “Unfortunately, the countries that that have the highest incidence of malaria also tend to have lower GDPs and thus are significantly burdened by the cost of current and newer treatments. Our goal is to reduce the cost of artemisinin to treat the populations that are most affected by malaria outbreaks.”

“Our combined expertise in synthetic chemistry and drug discovery will allow us to accelerate our discoveries.”

Most artemisinin is still isolated from the sweet wormwood plant, Artemisia annua, but this process is time-consuming, and crop yields are susceptible to weather patterns, insect pests and other factors. A newer semisynthetic method involves inserting the genes of the plant into a microorganism to produce an intermediate that is then transformed into artemisinin. Despite advancements in both methods, the cost of artemisinin still burdens the countries that are most affected by malaria.

“Dr. Frantz and I were able to create artemisinic acid, which is the direct precursor to artemisinin,” Blumberg said.

Now, the two researchers are following up on their previous work by revisiting the pioneering work of Mitchell Avery at the University of Mississippi in the 1990s.

“Using the chemical technology that we developed, we can pivot the artemisinin synthesis to produce the same highly potent artemisinin derivatives that had previously been studied by Dr. Avery nearly 30 years ago,” Blumberg said. “He was able to make several ultrapotent derivatives from various compounds, but it took multiple complex steps to accomplish that.”

Using the much simpler synthesis technique created by Blumberg and Frantz, they plan to revisit these potent artemisinin derivatives to address the growing resistance in a cost-effective manner.

“Now that it takes fewer steps, we can make more of these derivatives and explore more possibilities for drug treatments,” Blumberg said.

Frantz, who has an extensive background in drug discovery, will focus on translating the new artemisinin derivatives into potential new malaria therapies, which will be created by both Frantz and Blumberg. They plan to start work later this year.

“Our combined expertise in synthetic chemistry and drug discovery will allow us to accelerate our discoveries at the bench into tangible bedside treatments for this devastating disease,” Frantz said.

Blumberg added, “I got into this work because someone once told me if you become a medical doctor, you can treat one person at a time. But if you become a chemist you can treat thousands instantaneously. That is what we’re aiming for.”

SwRI’s Executive Office and UTSA’s Office of the Vice President for Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise sponsor the CONNECT program, which offers grant opportunities to enhance greater scientific collaboration between the two institutions.

— Joanna Carver

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
the official news source
of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Send your feedback to

UTSA Today is produced by University Communications and Marketing, the official news source of The University of Texas at San Antonio. Send your feedback to Keep up-to-date on UTSA news by visiting UTSA Today. Connect with UTSA online at Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram.




UTSA targets Hispanic success through new leadership council

UTSA’s Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA’s Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA’s Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

Our Commitment to Inclusivity

The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.