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1. The pharmacokinetic and effect kinetic properties of oral (p.o.), intramuscular (i.m.), and intrarectal (i.r.) artemether (5 mg kg-1) were compared in a crossover study in eight healthy adult volunteers. Plasma concentrations of artemether (AM) and its active metabolite dihydroartemisinin (DHA) were measured by high performance liquid chromatography with reductive mode electrochemical detection (h.p.l.c.-ECD), and plasma antimalarial activity in vitro (effect) was assessed on the same samples by a sensitive bioassay (BA). 2. Artemether was absorbed rapidly after oral administration with a mean (95% CI) Cmax for the parent compound of 406 (249 to 561) nmol l-1 and for DHA of 1009 (639 to 1379) nmol l-1 with tmax values of 1.7 (1.2 to 2.2) and 1.8 (1.4 to 2.2) h respectively. The mean (95% CI) elimination half-life of AM was 2.6 (1.8 to 3.4) h and for DHA was 1.9 (1.4 to 2.4) h. Plasma concentration and effect profiles with h.p.l.c.-ECD and BA were similar suggesting that other unidentified bioactive metabolites contributed little to antimalarial activity in vivo. 3. Absorption was slower, more variable, and DHA concentrations were lower following the i.m. and i.r. routes of administration. The mean (95% CI) relative bioavailability compared with oral artemether in the 6 h following administration AUC (0.6h) was 25 (9 to 41)% following i.m. and 35 (10 to 60)% following i.r. artemether. 4. These data demonstrate that oral artemether undergoes extensive first pass metabolism to the more active metabolite DHA. Plasma antimalarial activity following oral administration is significantly greater than following i.m. administration. The i.r. route of administration provided similar bioavailability to i.m. injection but there was considerable variability in absorption following both routes. Further studies are needed to determine whether i.r. artemether would be an effective treatment of severe malaria in the rural tropics in situations where oral or parenteral administration is not possible.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Clin Pharmacol

Publication Date





599 - 604


Absorption, Administration, Oral, Administration, Rectal, Adult, Antimalarials, Artemether, Artemisinins, Biological Assay, Biological Availability, Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid, Humans, Injections, Intramuscular, Sesquiterpenes