- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

BOSTON (AP) A variety of highly effective AIDS drugs is on the horizon, specialists say, easing worries that the fast-mutating virus will outstrip the ability of doctors to treat it.
Ever since combinations of AIDS medicines transformed HIV into a manageable condition in the mid-1990s, doctors have worried that the virus eventually would mutate into forms that would elude medical control. While HIV indeed has evolved into many drug-resistant forms, most patients still are able to find combinations that hold their viruses in check.
At the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston, specialists 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. This is something we haven't seen in past years. It's a bumper crop," said Dr. John Mellors of the University of Pittsburgh.
Sixteen drugs are now approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to fight AIDS. Most of the medicines are aimed at just two targets in the HIV life cycle proteins called protease and reverse transcriptase.
Doctors, however, say that the drugs now in development are aimed at eight different points in the process by which HIV attaches itself to blood cells, enters them and makes new copies of the virus.
The next new drug expected to win FDA approval is T-20, being developed by Roche and Trimeris Inc. It is a so-called fusion inhibitor that blocks HIV from sticking to the blood cells 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. Dr. Diego Miralles of Duke University said that more versions are in the design stage to take over in the event that T-1249 fails.
"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," Dr. Mellors said.
At least a half-dozen promising drugs are being tested on humans, he said, and 10 or 12 more are in the pipeline.
Additionally, patients now have to take fewer AIDS medicines. Just a few years ago, they had to ingest about 20 pills on a carefully timed daily schedule. Now just two or three pills need to be taken once or twice a day.
Among the new drugs in testing is TNX-355, an antibody from Tanox Inc. Unlike other drugs, this one works by blocking the spot on blood cells where HIV normally attaches itself. Initial testing by Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes and others from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that an injection every one to three weeks sharply reduced virus levels.

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