Safer Drugs Needed to Fight HIV, New York Times Reports
Following the 8th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, it is clear that "[n]ew, safer drugs are urgently needed for people already infected and the millions who are expected to become infected" with HIV, the New York Times reports. Even with an "arsenal" of 15 antiHIV drugs, HIV remains "so wily" that the development of drug resistance "severely compromises drug use" for many patients. Resistance can develop for a multitude of reasons, ranging from patient misuse of the drugs to doctors prescribing drugs in "wrong combinations." Experts "did not predict most toxicities of the available drugs" and "poorly understand" why problems such as fat accumulations, weakened bones, high cholesterol, anemia and diabetes develop. New classes of antiHIV drugs, such as fusion inhibitors, were presented at the conference, but Dr. Diane Havlir of the University of California-San Diego said that toxicity is currently the "fundamental issue" in the field of HIV medication. The "main hope" for the new classes of drugs is that they will "overcome such toxicities and also the increasingly common problem of viral resistance." Phenotypic and genotypic testing also offers "new hope" to detect patients with drug resistance, as the tests attempt to identify resistant strains early in order to prevent treatment failures. The tests also help doctors when choosing "salvage therapy," treatment combinations for people who have developed resistance to some of the drugs. One other "pressing problem" that emerged at the conference was the timing of therapy, as researchers attempt to determine how to "optimize use of available drugs." Several "sobering and inconsistent" study results of "structured treatment interruption" were presented at the conference, and although some showed promise, interruption therapy was not recommended. Despite the "obstacles" in antiHIV medication research, researchers are still "driven" to find a cure and/or prevention for the virus and "hope" that the new classes of drugs, along with immunologic therapies and genetic engineering techniques "will ultimately eradicate the last sequestered HIV from its haven in the body, and thus achieve a cure" (Altman, New York Times, 2/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.