Qinghaosu (artemisinin): an antimalarial drug from China

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Science  31 May 1985:
Vol. 228, Issue 4703, pp. 1049-1055
DOI: 10.1126/science.3887571


The herb Artemisia annua has been used for many centuries in Chinese traditional medicine as a treatment for fever and malaria. In 1971, Chinese chemists isolated from the leafy portions of the plant the substance responsible for its reputed medicinal action. This compound, called qinghaosu (QHS, artemisinin), is a sesquiterpene lactone that bears a peroxide grouping and, unlike most other antimalarials, lacks a nitrogen-containing heterocyclic ring system. The compound has been used successfully in several thousand malaria patients in China, including those with both chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum. Derivatives of QHS, such as dihydroqinghaosu, artemether, and the water-soluble sodium artesunate, appear to be more potent than QHS itself. Sodium artesunate acts rapidly in restoring to consciousness comatose patients with cerebral malaria. Thus QHS and its derivatives offer promise as a totally new class of antimalarials.