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Miltefosine structure.svg
Systematic (IUPAC) name
Clinical data
Trade names Impavido
AHFS/ International Drug Names
  • US: D (Evidence of risk)
Routes of
Oral (capsules)
Legal status
Legal status
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability High
Protein binding ~98%
Metabolism Slow hepatic (non-CYP-dependent)
Biological half-life 6 to 8 days and 31 days[1]
Excretion Primarily fecal
CAS Number 58066-85-6 N
ATC code L01XX09 (WHO)
PubChem CID 3599
ChemSpider 3473 YesY
KEGG D02494 YesY
NIAID ChemDB 130571
Chemical data
Formula C21H46NO4P
Molar mass 407.568 g/mol
 NYesY (what is this?)  (verify)

Miltefosine (INN, trade names Impavido and Miltex) is a broad-spectrum phospholipid antimicrobial drug. Chemically, it is a derivative of lysophospatidylcholine. It was developed in the late 1980s as an experimental cancer treatment by German scientists Hansjörg Eibl and Clemens Unger.[2] Simultaneously, but independently, it was found that the drug could kill Leishmania parasites, and since the mid-1990s, successful clinical trials were conducted. The drug became the first (and still the only prescribed) oral drug in the treatment of leishmaniasis. It is now known to be a broad-spectrum antimicrobial drug, active against pathogenic bacteria and fungi,[1][3] as well as human trematode Schistosoma mansoni and its vector host, the snail Biomphalaria alexandrina.[4] It can be administered orally and topically.

On 19 March 2014, the US Food and Drug Administration approved miltefosine for any form of leishmaniasis, specifically for patients of 12 years of age and older, and became the first approved drug for cutaneous or mucosal leishmaniasis.[5]

In 2013, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended miltefosine as a monotherapy for granulomatous amoebic encephalitis and primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, two fatal protozoal diseases.[6] Historically, only four survivors have been recorded out of 133 confirmed infections in North America. One American survived the infection in 1978 and one individual from Mexico in 2003. In 2013, two children survived and recovered from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis after treatment with miltefosine.[7][8] In 2016, another child became the fourth person in the United States to survive Naegleria fowleri infection after treatment that included miltefosine.[9]

In the target cell, it acts as an protein kinase B (Akt) inhibitor. Therefore, it is also under investigation as a potential therapy against HIV infection.[10][11]

Medical uses[edit]

Miltefosine is used for the treatment of visceral and New World cutaneous leishmaniasis, and is undergoing clinical trials for this use in several countries, such as Brazil,[12] Guatemala.[13] and the United States. Several medical agents have some efficacy against visceral or cutaneous leishmaniasis, however, a 2005 survey concluded that miltefosine is the only effective oral treatment for both forms of leishmaniasis.[14] It has been used successfully in some cases of the very rare, but highly lethal, brain infection by the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, acquired through water entering the nose during a plunge in contaminated water.

Miltefosine is being made available in the United States through the CDC for emergency use under an expanded access IND protocol for treatment of free-living amoeba (FLA) infections: primary amoebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri and granulomatous amoebic encephalitis caused by Balamuthia mandrillaris, and Acanthamoeba species.[7]

Side effects[edit]

The main side effects reported with miltefosine treatment are nausea and vomiting, which occur in 60% of patients. Adverse effect is more severe in women and young children. The overall effects are quite mild and easily reversed.[15] It is embryotoxic and fetotoxic in rats and rabbits, and teratogenic in rats but not in rabbits. It is therefore contraindicated for use during pregnancy, and contraception is required beyond the end of treatment in women of child-bearing age.[16]


Phospholipid group alkylphosphocholine were known since the early 1980s, particularly in terms of their binding affinity with cobra venom.[17] In 1987 the phospholipids were found to be potent toxins on leukemic cell culture.[18] Initial in vivo investigation on the antineoplastic activity showed positive result, but then only at high dosage and at high toxicity.[19] At the same time in Germany, Hansjörg Eibl, at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, and Clemens Unger, at the University of Göttingen, demonstrated that the antineoplastic activity of the phospholipid analogue miltefosine (at the time known as hexadecylphosphocholine) was indeed tumour-specific. It was highly effective against methylnitrosourea-induced mammary carcinoma, but less so on transplantable mammary carcinomas and autochthonous benzo(a)pyrene-induced sarcomas, and relatively inactive on Walker 256 carcinosarcoma and autochthonous acetoxymethylmethylnitrosamine-induced colonic tumors of rats.[20][21] It was subsequently found that miltefosine was structurally unique among lipids having anticancer property in that it lacks the glycerol group, is highly selective on cell types and acts through different mechanism.[2][22]

In the same year as the discovery of the anticancer property, miltefosine was reported by S. L. Croft and his team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as having antileishmanial effect as well. The compound was effective against Leishmania donovani amastigotes in cultured mouse peritoneal macrophages at a dose of 12.8 mg/kg/day in a five-day course.[23] However, priority was given to the development of the compound for cutaneous metastases of breast cancer. In 1992 a new research was reported in which the compound was highly effective in mouse against different life cycle stages of different Leishmania species, and in fact, more potent than the conventional sodium stibogluconate therapy by a factor of more than 600.[24] Results of the first clinical trial in humans were reported from Indian patients with chronic leishmaniasis with high degree of success and safety.[25] This promising development promulgated a unique public–private partnership collaboration between ASTA Medica (later Zentaris GmbH), the WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, and the Government of India. Eventually, several successful Phase II and III trials led to the approval of miltefosine in 2002 as the first and only oral drug for leishmaniasis.[1]

Further research[edit]

Antiprotozoal and antifungal activities[edit]

Miltefosine is being investigated by researchers interested in finding treatments for infections which have become resistant to existing drugs. Animal and in vitro studies suggest it may have broad anti-protozoal and anti-fungal properties:

Anti-HIV activity[edit]

Miltefosine targets HIV infected macrophages, which play a role in vivo as long-lived HIV-1 reservoirs. The HIV protein Tat activates pro-survival PI3K/Akt pathway in primary human macrophages. Miltefosine acts by inhibiting the PI3K/Akt pathway, thus removing the infected macrophages from circulation, without affecting healthy cells.[10] It significantly reduces replication of HIV-1 in cocultures of human dendritic cells (DCs) and CD4+ T cells, which is due to a rapid secretion of soluble factors and is associated with induction of type-I interferon (IFN) in the human cells.[38]


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External links[edit]