New HIV drug with an extended effect in the test phase
A single injection of the experimental drug lenacapavir turned out to be a potential new HIV drug. It could lower the level of HIV in the blood in a small group of patients. The drug was also able to maintain active blood levels for more than six months. All of this increases the chances that one day there will be effective treatment for AIDS that only needs to be done twice a year.
Good prospects for new HIV drug
Current treatment regimens with combinations of oral medications, which doctors and patients often refer to as “cocktails”, generally work quite well. This is shared by the co-author of the study, Dr. Martin Rhee, director of clinical research at the pharmaceutical company that develops lenacapavir. However, the treated people often claim that taking daily pills can become a burden over time. So the hope is that a longer-acting new HIV drug could free people from daily pills. In addition, longer-acting drugs may offer an easier way to prevent AIDS in high-risk individuals. Currently, this is done with daily therapy known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).
However, much research remains to be done. The new study provides proof of the principle that a dose interval of six months is possible. The researchers found that lenacapavir appeared safe in 40 healthy people. In addition, it could remain active in the body for more than six months. And in 32 people with previously untreated HIV, a single injection reduced blood virus levels within nine days. The catch is that HIV is not treated with just one drug. In order to keep the virus suppressed and limit the probability, a new HIV drug would have to be effective against the resistant viruses. In order for a regime that takes place twice a year to become a reality, the developers should be able to pair two long-acting drugs.
The researchers are studying a combination of two medications they administered monthly – cabotegravir and rilpivirine. The hope is to maintain HIV suppression in patients who have taken the virus to a very low level with standard oral medication. The researchers are now also testing cabotegravir for HIV prevention in high-risk individuals. In addition, in these studies, they give injections with the active substance every two months. Although rare cans are convenient and easy to follow, there are safety issues. For example, if people have side effects of the drug, does that mean they have to stick to it for six months?
To avoid this, studies have carried out an introductory phase. Patients first take oral versions of the long-acting medication to ensure that they can tolerate it. Another concern is what could happen if patients miss or delay an injection. If the level of the drug in the body decreases, the virus could return and possibly develop resistance to the drug. Rhee agrees that this is a problem that will affect all HIV drugs under development. However, progress towards new options is encouraging. People with HIV should know that scientists are still working on new therapies, including ways to cure the disease.
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