It is estimated that around 73,000 people in Britain are infected with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, which culminates in Aids. Although HIV infection is still considered serious, an early diagnosis and treatment can allow a patient to live a relatively normal lifespan.
HIV continually changes and can become resistant to treatment, leading to a continuing search for new drugs.
A new class of drug for people with HIV is being introduced in Britain today, which researchers describe as a huge step in treating the deadly infection.
The new drug is named Raltegravir and it is available in tablets form which is to be taken twice a day. It is approved for use with other antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV in about one in ten patients whose therapy has stopped working.
Raltegravir is likely to be available on the NHS for all infected patients as raltegravir is considered cost-effective because of their potential to prolong life by many years.
It is believed by doctors that the drug could become standard treatment, potentially preventing HIV progressing into full-blown Aids.
It is claimed that three quarters of patients on the trials showed a significant reduction in viral load the prevalance of the virus in their bloodstream compared with 40 per cent taking current medication. Some patients showed such marked improvement that at some points levels of the virus were undetectable.
Raltegravir is the first in a new class of HIV treatments called integrase inhibitors, it is hoped this will avoid the risks of heart attack and cancer associated with existing medication.
It works by blocking integrase, an enzyme that HIV relies on to replicate itself. It affects the ability of the virus to infect other cells, thus reducing the blood’s viral load. While raltegravir is not a cure for HIV it does suppress the virus to where it is virtually undetectable.
The approved dose of raltegravir is 400mg twice daily. Side-effects include diarrhoea, nausea, and headache. Raltegravir is being made available to UK patients. The drug received formal EU marketing approval in late December.