Artemisinin: A Scientific Saga of International Intrigue
Posted on Jan 17, 2012
Savvy Truthdig readers (as if there were any other kind) already know that the drug business is highly political here in the States, but the story of the Chinese malaria remedy artemisinin takes it up several notches on the international stage with a saga spanning several decades. Oh, and Chairman Mao is also involved. —KA
The New York Times:
Artemisinin’s discovery is being talked about as a candidate for a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Millions of American taxpayer dollars are spent on it for Africa every year.
But few people realize that in one of the paradoxes of history, the drug was discovered thanks to Mao Zedong, who was acting to help the North Vietnamese in their jungle war against the Americans. Or that it languished for 30 years thanks to China’s isolation and the indifference of Western donors, health agencies and drug companies.
Now that story is coming out. But as happens so often in science, versions vary, and multiple contributors are fighting over the laurels. That became particularly clear in September, when one of the Lasker Awards — sometimes called the “American Nobels” — went to a single one of the hundreds of Chinese scientists once engaged in the development of the drug.
Wikimedia Commons / Raymond (CC-BY-SA)
Mao Zedong’s portrait watches over the Gate of Heavenly Peace at the entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing.