What is the role of artemisinin in the treatment of malaria?

Updated: Jun 03, 2020
  • Author: Thomas E Herchline, MD; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Despite the activity of artemisinin and its derivatives, monotherapy with these agents has been associated with high rates of relapse. This may be due to the temporary arrest of the growth of ring-stage parasites (dormancy) after exposure to artemisinin drugs. For this reason, monotherapy with artemisinin drugs is not recommended. [23] Rectal artesunate has been used for pretreatment of children in resource-limited settings as a bridge therapy until the patient can access health care facilities for definitive IV or oral therapy. [24]

Despite their being a fairly new antimalarial class, resistance to artemisinins has been reported in some parts of southeast Asia (Cambodia). [25]

In the United States, artemether and lumefantrine tablets (Coartem) can be used to treat acute uncomplicated malaria. Artesunate IV, a form of artemisinin, is indicated for initial treatment of severe malaria in adults and children. Once the patient can tolerate oral therapy, a complete treatment course of an appropriate oral antimalarial regimen should always follow artesunate. Other combinations, such as atovaquone and proguanil HCL (Malarone) or quinine in combination with doxycycline or clindamycin, remain highly efficacious.

Artesunate IV was officially approved by the FDA in May 2020 (it was previously available from the CDC through an IND protocol). Approval was based the South East Asian Quinine Artesunate Malaria Trial (SEAQUAMAT) and the African Quinine Artesunate Malaria Trial (AQUAMAT). These two studies examined a total of 6,886 patients, including adults, children, and pregnant women. Artesunate IV reduced mortality by 34.7% (P = 0.0002) and 22.5% (P = 0.002) compared with quinine in the SEAQUMAT and AQUAMAT studies, respectively. [20, 26]

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