Anti-malarial drug, artemisinin and its derivatives for the treatment of respiratory diseases

Pharmacol Res. 2020 Aug:158:104901. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2020.104901. Epub 2020 May 13.


Artemisinins are sesquiterpene lactones with a peroxide moiety that are isolated from the herb Artemisia annua. It has been used for centuries for the treatment of fever and chills, and has been recently approved for the treatment of malaria due to its endoperoxidase properties. Progressively, research has found that artemisinins displayed multiple pharmacological actions against inflammation, viral infections, and cell and tumour proliferation, making it effective against diseases. Moreover, it has displayed a relatively safe toxicity profile. The use of artemisinins against different respiratory diseases has been investigated in lung cancer models and inflammatory-driven respiratory disorders. These studies revealed the ability of artemisinins in attenuating proliferation, inflammation, invasion, and metastasis, and in inducing apoptosis. Artemisinins can regulate the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB), matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), promote cell cycle arrest, drive reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and induce Bak or Bax-dependent or independent apoptosis. In this review, we aim to provide a comprehensive update of the current knowledge of the effects of artemisinins in relation to respiratory diseases to identify gaps that need to be filled in the course of repurposing artemisinins for the treatment of respiratory diseases. In addition, we postulate whether artemisinins can also be repurposed for the treatment of COVID-19 given its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties.

Keywords: Arteether (PubChem CID: 3000469); Artemether (PubChem CID: 68911); Artemisinin; Artemisitene (PubChem CID: 11000442); Artesunate (PubChem CID:156252); COVID-19; Cell proliferation; Chemical compounds studied in this article Artemisinin (PubChem CID: 68827); Dihydroartemisinin (PubChem CID: 139073990); Inflammation; Lung; Respiratory diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Artemisinins / therapeutic use*
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Artemisinins
  • artemisinin