Daily Pill Newest Weapon Against HIV

By Amir Khan on June 29, 2012 9:57 AM EDT

HIV
Electron microscope scan of HIV (Photo: Creative Commons)

There is no known cure for HIV, but treatments typically consist of drug cocktails that inhibit formation of new HIV particles. However, a new drug, called Quad, may replace the multitude of pills with a once-daily pill that doctors say may help patients better stick to their treatment.

"People are more likely to take their medications as prescribed and not miss doses, they are more satisfied with their treatment, and their virus is more likely to be kept under control," Dr. Daliah Mehdi, chief clinical officer with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, told ABC News. "This all means that the one-pill-once-a-day regimens allow people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives and also makes them less likely to transmit the virus to others."

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Researchers from Harvard Medical School tested Quad in a trial of 700 people, half of whom were given the new drug while the rest were given Atripla, a drug that is the current standard treatment for HIV. After one year of treatment, 88 percent of people on Quad saw their virus repressed, compared to 84 percent on Atripla.

Both drugs were equally safe as well -- 3.7 percent of patients stopped Quad due to the side effects while 5.1 stopped Atripla.

"Response to the Quad was favorable across a wide range of patients, including those with high HIV viral loads who are sometimes difficult to treat," Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of infectious disease at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News.

HIV causes a failure of the immune system. Some people develop flulike symptoms within a few weeks of being infected, but most infected people show no symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 1 million Americans live with HIV, and about 25 percent of seropositive people are unaware of their HIV status, according to the CDC.

Risk factors for HIV include having sex with multiple partners, having sex without a condom, and having sex with men who have sex with men, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases. Although no effective vaccine exists, a few candidates have entered Phase III clinical trials, the final hurdle before a drug can be approved for use in the general population.

The most promising aspect of the new drug is that it gives patients one more option in their battle against HIV, Dr. Ronald Mitsuyasu, professor of medicine at UCLA, told ABC News.

"The medications contained in the Quad may or may not be better, but giving people one more single-tablet option is likely to result in better adherence and therefore better outcomes for those who can take the Quad," he said. "Yes, we do already have two single-tablet options, but they are not suitable for everyone. This gives us one more option, another opportunity for people to get on the simplest possible treatment regimen."

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