News Feature | August 4, 2014

Malaria Drugs Eyed As Asthma Treatment, Liver Cancer Prevention Tactic

By Estel Grace Masangkay

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) recently discovered that two, traditional anti-malaria drugs could be used to treat asthma and prevent liver cancer.

Artesunate for injection is manufactured by Guilin Pharmaceuticals and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of severe malaria in the U.S. Dr. Eugene Ho Wanxing from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS discovered that the drug also possessed anti-inflammatory agents, which are effective for treating asthmatic conditions.

The drug also offered protection from asthma as it controls inflammation in asthmatic lungs, reduces mucus production, and lessens sensitivity of the airway. Dr. Ho said, “Steroids are good for short-term episodes, but are detrimental in the long run, leaving side effects such as obesity. Artesunate reduces the number of inflammatory cells, reduces DNA damage, and decreases oxidative stress, which destroys tissue cells.” Associate Professor Wong added that Artesunate can stand in for standard treatments like inhaled steroids.

Another over the counter anti-malaria pill that has been discovered to have a new use is chloroquine. British scientists from the University College London found that the drug could prevent liver cancer.

Chloroquine switches off two proteins believed to trigger chronic inflammation and cause cancer. The drug successfully prevented cancer in 80 percent of studied cases, while also shrinking tumors.

Dr. Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK's science communication manager, commented, “These are intriguing findings from cells grown in the lab and animal models, looking at how chloroquine affects molecules involved in driving liver cancer. There are still a few pieces of the scientific puzzle to be filled in before chloroquine is ready to go forward for clinical trials for treating or preventing liver cancer, but it's certainly an interesting and potentially beneficial avenue to explore.”

The antimalarial drug Artesunate is derived from the Artemisia plant, while chloroquine is a derivative of quinine, which is found in the bark of cinchona tree.