Anticancer properties of artemisinin derivatives and their targeted delivery by transferrin conjugation

Int J Pharm. 2008 Apr 16;354(1-2):28-33. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2007.09.003. Epub 2007 Sep 6.


Artemisinin and its derivatives are well known antimalaria drugs and particularly useful for the treatment of infection of Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites resistant to traditional antimalarials. Artemisinin has an endoperoxide bridge that is activated by intraparasitic heme-iron to form free radicals, which kill malaria parasites by alkylating biomolecules. In recent years, there are many reports of anticancer activities of artemisinins both in vitro and in vivo. Artemisinins have inhibitory effects on cancer cell growth, including many drug- and radiation-resistant cancer cell lines. The cytotoxic effect of artemisinin is specific to cancer cells because most cancer cells express a high concentration of transferrin receptors on cell surface and have higher iron ion influx than normal cells via transferrin mechanism. In addition, some artemisinin analogs have been shown to have antiangiogenesis activity. Artemisinin tagged to transferrin via carbohydrate chain has also been shown to have high potency and specificity against cancer cells. The conjugation enables targeted delivery of artemisinin into cancer cells. In this review, we discuss the anticancer activities and mechanisms of action of artemisinins and the transferrin-conjugate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Artemisinins / pharmacokinetics
  • Artemisinins / pharmacology*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Transferrin / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Artemisinins
  • Free Radicals
  • Transferrin