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Parassitologia. 2004 Jun;46(1-2):85-7.

[Combined antimalarial therapy using artemisinin].

[Article in Italian]

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Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Dipartimento di Malattie Infettive, Parassitarie e Immunomediate, WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases Control, Roma.


The existing armamentarium of drugs for the treatment and prevention of malaria is limited primarily by resistance (and cross-resistance between closely related drugs). However, most of these drugs still have a place and their life-span could be prolonged if better deployed and used, and also by rationally combining them based on pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties. Newer compounds are also being developed. The nature of malaria disease and its prevalence in the developing world call for innovative approaches to develop new affordable drugs and to safeguard the available ones. According to WHO, the concept of combination therapy is based on the synergistic or additive potential of two or more drugs, to improve therapeutic efficacy and also delay the development of resistance to the individual components of the combination. Combination therapy (CT) with antimalarial drugs is the simultaneous use of two or more blood schizontocidal drugs with independent modes of action and different biochemical targets in the parasite. In the context of this definition, multiple-drug therapies that include a nonantimalarial drug to enhance the antimalarial effect of a blood schizontocidal drug are not considered combination therapy. Similarly, certain antimalarial drugs that fit the criteria of synergistic fixed-dose combinations are operationally considered as single products in that neither of the individual components would be given alone for anti-malarial therapy. An example is sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine. Artemisinin-based combination therapies have been shown to improve treatment efficacy and also contain drug resistance in South-East Asia. However, major challenges exist in the deployment and use of antimalarial drug combination therapies, particularly in Africa. These include: 1) the choice of drug combinations best suited for the different epidemiological situations; 2) the cost of combination therapy; 3) the timing of the introduction of combination therapy; 4) the operational obstacles to implementation, especially compliance. As a response to increasing levels of antimalarial resistance, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all countries experiencing resistance to conventional monotherapies, such as chloroquine, amodiaquine or sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine, should use combination therapies, preferably those containing artemisinin derivatives (ACTs--artemisinin-based combination therapies) for malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum. There is a promising role of such compounds in replacing or complementing current options. Since 1979, several different formulations of artemisinin and its derivatives have been produced and studied in China in several thousand patients for either P. falciparum or P. vivax malaria. To date, there is no evidence of drug resistance to these compounds. The use of artemisinin, artemether, arteether and artesunate for either uncomplicated or severe malaria is now spreading through almost all malarious areas of the world, although some of they have no patent protection, their development (with few exceptions) has not followed yet full international standards. Both artesunate, artemether and arteether are rapidly and extensively converted to their common bioactive metabolite, dihydroarte-misinin. WHO currently recommends the following therapeutic options: 1) artemether/lumefantrine; 2) artesunate plus amodiaquine; 3) artesunate plus sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine (in areas where SP efficacy remains high); 4) artesunate plus mefloquine (in areas with low to moderate transmission); and 5) amodiaquine plus sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine, in areas where efficacy of both amodiaquine and sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine remains high (mainly limited to countries in West Africa). This non artemisinin-based combination therapy is reserved as an interim option for countries, which, for whatever reason, are unable immediately to move to ACTs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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