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Drug 'pipeline' encourages doctors

©Associated Press
February 12, 2003

BOSTON -- A variety of highly effective new AIDS drugs are on the horizon, experts say, easing worries that the disease's fast-mutating virus will outstrip doctors' ability to treat it.

Ever since combinations of medicines transformed AIDS into a manageable condition in the mid 1990s, doctors have worried that the virus would eventually mutate into forms that would elude their control. While HIV indeed has evolved into many drug-resistant forms, most patients are still able to find combinations that hold their virus in check.

At the 10th Conference on Retroviruses in Boston, experts said the outlook for potent and novel medicines to control HIV has never been brighter.

"The pipeline of new drugs has an impressive number of candidates in it," said Dr. John Mellors of the University of Pittsburgh.

Currently, 16 drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to fight AIDS. Most of the medicines are aimed at just two targets in the virus' life cycle, proteins called protease and reverse transcriptate.

But now, doctors say, drugs are in development that are aimed at eight points in the process by which HIV attaches itself to blood cells, enters them and finally makes new copies of the virus.

The next drug expected to win FDA approval is T-20, being developed by Roche and Trimeris Inc., a so-called fusion inhibitor that blocks HIV from sticking to the blood cells that it attacks.

At the meeting Tuesday, doctors described encouraging results with the next generation of this drug, called T-1249, that is intended to be used when the virus grows resistant to T-20.

"I am very encouraged this year that we seem to be keeping up with the virus in terms of our ability to treat resistant virus with new drugs," Mellors said.

At least a half dozen promising drugs are in human testing, he said, and 10 or 12 more are in the pipeline.

But a leading Boston researcher who regularly guides clinical trials of AIDS drugs warned that while early results may warrant optimism, the path from research bench to patient is pocked with disappointment. The drugs will take several years to win approval and even then they can produce side effects never anticipated by researchers, said Dr. Calvin Cohen, research director of Community Research Initiative of New England.

-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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