New HIV drug could stop virus from spreading

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Friday, June 9, 2006

Stylized rendering of a cross section of the human immunodeficiency virus.

In a small-scale trial on humans, American scientists say they may have developed a new drug that could stop the spread of HIV and "rapidly clears" the blood of the virus.

"There is a lot of interest in this product," said editor Keith Alcorn of the National Aids Manual.

The drug called PA-457, which is derived from betulinic acid and comes from by-products from paper manufacturers, is being manufactured and developed by Maryland drug manufacturer Panacos Pharmaceuticals. The drug is known as a maturation inhibitor, which is a new group of drugs. Its purpose is to break down the protective protein coating of HIV. The drug exposes the inner genetic material by making holes in the coating of the virus essentially causing it to break down and disabling its ability to be passed from one human to the next. The drug also shows that it works on strains of HIV that are resistant to other medications. The drug is also compatible with other HIV drugs.

"It's a truly novel new class of drugs, and I really support their development. If PA-457 turns out to be non-toxic, easy to use and not to select for resistance, it will find good use," said Charles Boucher who researches HIV at Utrecht university medical center in the Netherlands.

"It stops the virus by interfering in one of the final stages in its assembly and stops it from 'budding out' from the wall of a cell," said Alcorn.

Scientists are expected to begin a larger scale test on 48 people in one month, whose drugs are no longer working; however, the drug itself is not likely to be available for wide-scale use for at least 3 years. Test subjects will be administered either a placebo or PA-457 that will be taken in combination with the medication they already take.

"This provides the basis for future studies that will be designed to provide a detailed understanding of the interaction between PA-457 and its target as well as insights into the design of new generations of maturation inhibitors," said CEO of Panacos Pharmaceuticals, Graham Allaway.

At least 80% of those suffering from the disease have shown resistance to other medications.