Atovaquone, a hydroxynaphthoquinone (Figure 52–2), was initially developed as an antimalarial agent, and as a component of Malarone is recommended for treatment and prevention of malaria. Atovaquone has also been approved by the FDA for the treatment of mild to moderate P jiroveci pneumonia.
The drug is only administered orally. Its bioavailability is low and erratic, but absorption is increased by fatty food. The drug is heavily protein-bound and has a half-life of 2–3 days. Most of the drug is eliminated unchanged in the feces. Atovaquone acts against plasmodia by disrupting mitochondrial electron transport. It is active against tissue and erythrocytic schizonts, allowing chemoprophylaxis to be discontinued only 1 week after the end of exposure (compared with 4 weeks for mefloquine or doxycycline, which lack activity against tissue schizonts).
Initial use of atovaquone to treat malaria led to disappointing results, with frequent failures, apparently due to the selection of resistant parasites during therapy. In contrast, Malarone, a fixed combination of atovaquone (250 mg) and proguanil (100 mg), is highly effective for both the treatment and chemoprophylaxis of falciparum malaria, and it is now approved for both indications in the USA. For chemoprophylaxis, Malarone must be taken daily (Table 52–2). It has an advantage over mefloquine and doxycy-cline in requiring shorter periods of treatment before and after the period at risk for malaria transmission, but it is more expensive than the other agents. It should be taken with food.
Atovaquone is an alternative therapy for P jiroveci infection, although its efficacy is lower than that of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. Standard dosing is 750 mg taken with food twice daily for 21 days. Adverse effects include fever, rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and insomnia. Serious adverse effects appear to be mini-mal, although experience with the drug remains limited. Atovaquone has also been effective in small numbers of immunocompromised patients with toxoplasmosis unresponsive to other agents, although its role in this disease is not yet defined.
Malarone is generally well tolerated. Adverse effects include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and rash, and these are more common with the higher dosage required for treatment. Reversible elevations in liver enzymes have been reported. The safety of atovaquone in pregnancy is unknown. Plasma concentrations of atovaquone are decreased about 50% by co-administration of tetracycline or rifampin.