Cheaper manufacture of meningitis medication

Chemists at Durham University have found an innovative way to make an effective treatment for a strain of meningitis in less developed countries.

The Durham group’s work could see drugs for the treatment of Cryptococcal Meningitis (CM) become more readily available. CM is the leading cause of meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa and also accounts for 20 per cent of HIV/AIDs related deaths worldwide.

In developed countries just 9% of people diagnosed with CM die, but this rises to 70% in sub-Saharan Africa where the cost of the drug restricts its availability.

Research by Professor Graham Sandford, in Durham University’s Department of Chemistry, and former PhD student Antal Harsanyi, resulted in an innovative, simplified method of producing the drug flucytosine, which could significantly reduce the cost of this vital medicine.


The research is part of a long-term project by the Durham Fluorine Group to harness the use of the chemical element fluorine gas for practical application via the techniques of continuous flow fluorination and selective direct fluorination.

They developed a method of making flucytosine from a starting material of cytosine which is a readily available, naturally occurring product. The new technique - called continuous flow fluorination - continuously passes fluorine gas through a reactor tube, together with a solution of cytosine in acid. In the tube the fluorine gas reacts with the cytosine molecules to make flucytosine in a very controlled process.

This method uses less energy, fewer raw materials and produces less waste than existing production processes and is also less expensive.

The group has received the 2018 AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Pfizer and Syngenta Prize for Process Chemistry Research, which recognises UK-based academics who develop chemistry that has the potential to be of relevance to large scale manufacturing.

Find out more on the Durham University website.


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