The multifaceted antineoplastic role of pyrimethamine against human malignancies

IUBMB Life. 2022 Mar;74(3):198-212. doi: 10.1002/iub.2590. Epub 2022 Jan 5.


Cancer accounted for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 and is the second leading cause of death worldwide. The chemotherapeutic agents that are in clinical practice possess a broad range of severe adverse effects towards vital organs which emphasizes the importance of the discovery of new therapeutic agents or repurposing of existing drugs for the treatment of human cancers. Pyrimethamine is an antiparasitic drug used for the treatment of malaria and toxoplasmosis with a well-documented excellent safety profile. In the last 5 years, numerous efforts have been made to explore the anticancer potential of pyrimethamine in in vitro and in vivo preclinical models and to repurpose it as an anticancer agent. The studies have demonstrated that pyrimethamine inhibits oncogenic proteins such as STAT3, NF-κB, DX2, MAPK, DHFR, thymidine phosphorylase, telomerase, and many more in a different types of cancer models. Moreover, pyrimethamine has been reported to work in synergy with other anticancer agents, such as temozolomide, to induce apoptosis of tumor cells. Recently, the results of phase-1/2 clinical trials demonstrated that pyrimethamine administration reduces the expression of STAT3 signature genes in tumor tissues of chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients with a good therapeutic response. In the present article, we have reviewed most of the published articles related to the antitumor effects of pyrimethamine in malignancies of breast, liver, lung, skin, ovary, prostate, pituitary, and leukemia in in vitro and in vivo settings. We have also discussed the pharmacokinetic profile and results of clinical trials obtained after pyrimethamine treatment. From these studies, we believe that pyrimethamine has the potential to be repurposed as an anticancer drug.

Keywords: MAPK; STAT3; apoptosis; cancer; drug repurposing; pyrimethamine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents* / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Pyrimethamine / pharmacology
  • Pyrimethamine / therapeutic use
  • Temozolomide / pharmacology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Temozolomide
  • Pyrimethamine