13 August 2014

More effective asthma treatment with an anti-malarial drug

Asthma may soon be controlled more effectively thanks to a pharmacological discovery by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The team, led by Associate Professor Fred Wong from the Department of Pharmacology at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, together with Dr Eugene Ho, a recent PhD graduate from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS, have discovered that artesunate, a herbal-based anti-malarial drug, can be used to control asthma with better results than other drugs currently available.

The team revealed that artesunate can produce effects similar to those by dexamethasone, the most potent steroid remedy currently available, but with fewer side effects. As long term usage of steroids have many potential negative side effects, artesunate may be a safer alternative for asthmathic patients. The discovery was published in the journal Metabolomics on 16 July 2014. Artesunate had not been linked with asthma prior to this research.

Moving forward, the team led by Assoc Prof Wong will further explore the therapeutic and pharmacological effects of artesunate for asthma, as well as for other medical conditions. They also intend to work with industry partners to test the effects of artesunate on asthmatic patients.

Dr Ho is also furthering his research as a Research Fellow at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS, where he hopes to discover more beneficial effects of artesunate and accelerate the adoption of this drug for clinical tests.

Artesunate is made from artemisinin (青蒿素) which is from the plant Artemisia annua, or sweet wormwood. On August 12, Sanofi and Path announced that it is now shipping synthetic artemisinin-derived drugs for malaria at a large scale, paving the way for a form of artesunate that may be available in bigger quantities and more cheaply than previously possible.