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German Malaria Researchers Win International “Humanity in Science” Award

Chemist Prof. Peter H. Seeberger and Chemical Engineer Prof. Andreas Seidel-Morgenstern Selected as Inaugural “Humanity in Science” Prize Winners

№ 063/2015 from Mar 11, 2015

Prof. Dr. Peter H. Seeberger, a director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and a professor of chemistry at Freie Universität Berlin, and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Andreas Seidel-Morgenstern, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems in Magdeburg and a professor of chemical engineering at the Otto-von Guericke-University in Magdeburg, won the Humanity in Science prize for their groundbreaking work in developing new production methods for antimalarial drugs. They will receive the prize during a gala dinner on March 10, 2015, in New Orleans. The prize money is 25,000 dollars (roughly 22,500 euros). The award was launched in 2014 by “The Analytical Scientist,” a science journal, and Phenomenex, a separation technology company.

The scientists developed a new production method to synthesize and purify the malaria medication Artesunate using plant waste, light and air. A combined effort by both scientists resulted in an essential contribution to the fight against malaria.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Andreas Seidel-Morgenstern said, “My colleague Peter Seeberger contacted me after his initial success, when he developed a new continuous photochemical reaction to produce artemisinin from the waste of the usual production. He wanted to know if we were interested in researching the possibility of a continuous purification for the continuous synthesis. As malaria is a disease of poverty we tried to find a solution which had to be simple and cost-effective.”

Prof. Peter H. Seeberger emphasizes, “The method invented by Andreas Seidel-Morgenstern’s team is astonishingly simple, but highly effective. Further advances came through close collaboration. We succeeded in producing the actual medications used in the tablets, derivatives from artemisinin like artesunate, in our continuous reactor as well. And Andres Seidel-Morgenstern’s scientists found a brilliant method for continuous purification of these active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

Using this method, the researchers were able to double the yield of the active compounds from the plant. At the same time the costs to obtain the APIs were lowered. The purity of the final product Artesunate, a common problem of other synthesis processes, is more than 99.5%.

Industrialization of the patented methods is the task of Artemiflow, a Max Planck spin-off company. Currently a first production plant in Vietnam is in the development phase. Prof. Seeberger said, “We found a private investor in Vietnam, and our work was met with interest of the Vietnamese government. Using well organized campaigns, Vietnam managed to practically eradicate malaria in recent years, and there are only limited cases from time to time – quite an achievement! Our technology will secure the existence of thousands of farmers in Vietnam cultivating Artemisia annua, the plant producing the intermediate compound artemisinin, which is the basis for producing artesunate. Vietnam wants to help African countries fight malaria with low-cost medications in a south-south collaboration.

Seeberger emphasizes: “The Max Planck society funded our basic research. As there was no further funding available we had to become entrepreneurs to bring the technology to industrial scale. We hope our cooperation with a developing country will improve the situation of malaria patients worldwide.”

The Humanity in Science Award

The Humanity in Science Award is an international research prize that was launched in 2014 by “The Analytical Scientist,” a scientific journal, and Phenomenex, a separation technology company. The Humanity in Science Award was launched to recognize and reward analytical scientists who are changing lives for the better worldwide. Worthy prizes can be technologies, a process, or a product improving, e.g., food or water safety, or research on pharmaceuticals, biofuels, or other relevant applications. The prize is awarded annually, this year for the first time in New Orleans in connection with the Pittcon 2015, the word largest conference for laboratory science.

Press Photos

Media representatives are welcome to download photos of the scientists at http://www.fu-berlin.de/presse/informationen/fup/2015/fup_15_063-auszeichnung-humanity-in-science-award-an-professor-seeberger/index.html. The photos may be used free of charge, provided due credit is given the photographers:

  • Left: Peter H. Seeberger, Credit: MPI Colloids and Interfaces, Potsdam / Anne Heinlein
  • Right: Andreas Seidel-Morgenstern, Credit: MPI Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems in Magdeburg / Bastian Ehl



Photo Captions:

Left: Prof. Peter H. Seeberger, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, and Professor at Freie Universität Berlin; Right: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Andreas Seidel-Morgenstern, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems in Magdeburg.