Researchers in London have discovered that the antimalarial drug artesunate has anticancer activity. Artesunate is an artemisin, a class of compounds that has potent antiproliferative activity and is used in the first-line treatment of malaria.
In this in vitro study, the authors investigated the activity of artesunate, either alone or in combination with standard chemotherapy, in human cancer cells. Treatment with artesunate resulted in dose-dependent reduction in number of cells, as a result of increased cytotoxicity and prevention of cell growth and multiplication.
Artesunate caused arrest at all phases of the cell cycle, preventing cell growth and proliferation, and cells were maintained in this state during treatment. This activity was enhanced when artesunate was combined with the immunomodulatory drug, lenalidomide.
These results suggest that artesunate has potential for the treatment of tumours and its activity is dose-dependent; to maximise efficacy, the most appropriate schedule should be selected.
Liu WM, Gravett AM, Dalgleish AG. The antimalarial agent artesunate possesses anticancer properties that can be enhanced by combination strategies. Int J Canc 28 Nov 2010