Artesunate (AS) is a clinically versatile artemisinin derivative utilized for the treatment of mild to severe malaria infection. Given the therapeutic significance of AS and the necessity of appropriate AS dosing, substantial research has been performed investigating the pharmacokinetics of AS and its active metabolite dihydroartemisinin (DHA). In this article, a comprehensive review is presented of AS clinical pharmacokinetics following administration of AS by the intravenous (IV), intramuscular (IM), oral or rectal routes. Intravenous AS is associated with high initial AS concentrations which subsequently decline rapidly, with typical AS half-life estimates of less than 15 minutes. AS clearance and volume estimates average 2 - 3 L/kg/hr and 0.1 - 0.3 L/kg, respectively. DHA concentrations peak within 25 minutes post-dose, and DHA is eliminated with a half-life of 30 - 60 minutes. DHA clearance and volume average between 0.5 - 1.5 L/kg/hr and 0.5 - 1.0 L/kg, respectively. Compared to IV administration, IM administration produces lower peaks, longer half-life values, and higher volumes of distribution for AS, as well as delayed peaks for DHA; other parameters are generally similar due to the high bioavailability, assessed by exposure to DHA, associated with IM AS administration (> 86%). Similarly high bioavailability of DHA (> 80%) is associated with oral administration. Following oral AS, peak AS concentrations (Cmax) are achieved within one hour, and AS is eliminated with a half-life of 20 - 45 minutes. DHA Cmax values are observed within two hours post-dose; DHA half-life values average 0.5 - 1.5 hours. AUC values reported for AS are often substantially lower than those reported for DHA following oral AS administration. Rectal AS administration yields pharmacokinetic results similar to those obtained from oral administration, with the exceptions of delayed AS Cmax and longer AS half-life. Drug interaction studies conducted with oral AS suggest that AS does not appreciably alter the pharmacokinetics of atovaquone/proguanil, chlorproguanil/dapsone, or sulphadoxine/pyrimethamine, and mefloquine and pyronaridine do not alter the pharmacokinetics of DHA. Finally, there is evidence suggesting that the pharmacokinetics of AS and/or DHA following AS administration may be altered by pregnancy and by acute malaria infection, but further investigation would be required to define those alterations precisely.
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