Although we haven’t heard as much about the AIDS virus lately, that doesn’t mean it has stopped its deadly spread. Researchers have been working feverishly for years now to come up with a cure or a treatment that could stop the virus and save lives. For some, expensive treatments seemed to work, keeping the virus at bay for years, but for those living in poverty, treatments like that were only a dream. Now though, new antiretroviral treatment has been developed at a price that will make it available to even low income people with HIV.
Currently, there are 56,000 Americans infected with AIDS every year and more than 30 million living with it worldwide. In Africa, where poverty and AIDS are prevalent, a study of 500 HIV-infected women found that Nevapirine, a new and much cheaper treatment, was just as effective at slowing the virus as more expensive medicines like Lopinavir and Ritonavir. However, the newer, less expensive drug had 14% of its users stop treatment because of adverse side effects and toxicity. Also, there was more drug resistance with Nevapirine compared to the more expensive medications. With that said, nevaprine is an effective, affordable first-line alternative for the treatment of HIV. There are now even more drugs reaching the final testing stages and getting FDA approval that are effective enough to decrease the levels of the AIDS virus to undetectable levels in about 80% of their trial participants. Recent discoveries of the delta-32 mutation to the gene that encodes CCR5 were found to block HIV receptors, rendering it incapable of multiplying. Researchers have now found a way to mimic this mutation and, in a sense, cure patients with the use of their small molecule drug called Maraviroc. Maraviroc (brand name, Selzentry) was approved in 2007 as an antiretroviral drug in the CCR5 receptor antagonist class used in the treatment of HIV infection and is now being tested for its safety and efficacy. More and more drugs are being developed with this break-through in mind. Once each one has been approved for public consumption, many others will be able to create even less expensive options and get the drugs to the areas where they are needed most.
This flurry of discovery, innovation, and resourcefulness has made the AIDS epidemic suddenly much more manageable. Although we haven’t quite taken the last step to stop all 2 million AIDS deaths each year, it seems we are on the cusp of putting this virus behind us.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.