New drug boosts fight against HIV, researchers find

A new drug that advances the fight against HIV has been found to work better than treatments currently on the market, research led by a University of Toronto and Toronto General Hospital scientist has revealed.

"In most trials where HIV drugs go head to head, they usually end with one being as equally effective as the other. This is the first time that one protease inhibitor drug combination has been found to work better than another in patients who haven't received treatment before," says Dr. Sharon Walmsley, associate professor of medicine at U of T and senior scientist at Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network. Walmsley is lead author of a paper to appear in the June 27 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. "The new drug combination is superior in inhibiting the virus and it's easier for patients to take. We also found that patients did not develop resistance to the drug, a major factor in HIV treatment."

The human immunodefficiency virus is a type of retrovirus that attacks the body's immune system. An enzyme called the protease enables the HIV virus to mature and replicate itself. One class of anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV is protease inhibitors, which work by blocking the protease thereby halting the replication process. They are typically used in combination with another class of anti-retroviral agents called reverse transcriptase inhibitors that hamper an earlier stage of HIV replication.

In the double-blind trial, the researchers tested 653 HIV-infected adults from 13 countries who had not previously received anti-retroviral therapy. Walmsley and her colleagues tested the new drug (a lopinavir-ritonavir combination, which is essentially two protease inhibitors in one) against nelfinavir (the most common protease inhibitor used in Canada). Both sets of patients also received two other anti-HIV agents generally taken with protease inhibitors.

At the end of the 24- and 48-week periods, more patient

Contact: Janet Wong
University of Toronto

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