Scientists find new way to prevent AIDS development

Updated: 2012-07-20 09:31


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A drug typically used to treat AIDS-triggered lung infections may be able to prevent the reproduction of HIV and possibly provide a new method for the control and elimination of the virus, Chinese scientists said Thursday.

A research team led by Shen Binghui, a life science professor at Zhejiang University in east China's Zhejiang province, found that a drug containing pentamidine can cut the life cycle of HIV and prevent the reproduction of the virus, which can help protect the body's immune system and hence prevent the development of AIDS.

HIV has an incubation period of ten years on average, during which the virus infects immune cells and uses the cells and proteins to reproduce and spread, gradually damaging the immune system. When the immune system can no longer fight the virus, the symptoms appear.

Research indicates that a kind of human protein called FEN-1 has a decisive function in the reproductive process of HIV.

Shen said his team found that the drug can effectively prevent the reproduction of HIV by destroying the protein. The virus can no longer cause any damage to the immune system once it cannot reproduce, and a small amount of HIV can even be eliminated by a healthy immune system.

So far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has approved 33 kinds of AIDS drugs, among which 32 target the virus itself, differing from the new therapy, which targets the human protein.

HIV has a high mutation rate and can develop resistance to drugs through continuous genetic mutation. The human protein is more stable, making the new therapy more effective in the long-term.

Popular "cocktail therapies" are comparatively advanced and effective, but also very expensive, costing every patient about 22,000 US dollars per year on average. Shen said the drug that his team is developing can greatly lower treatment costs.

US company App Pharmaceuticals first developed the drug in the form of an aerosol called nebupent to treat AIDS-triggered lung infections. The drug was approved by the FDA and put into production in 1989, but its patent has expired.

Shen said Chinese researchers obtained a patent for the research result in the US last April together with the U.S.-based City of Hope, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center.

In order to improve the performance of the drug, Chinese researchers have changed the form of the drug from aerosol to capsule. It will soon start clinical trials in the US and more than 80 volunteers will take the drug during the first phase of the trial.

Scientists said it will at least take eight to ten years for the drug to finish its clinical trials and come to market.

Since 1981, when AIDS was first reported, the epidemic has been rapidly spreading across the world. There were about 34 million HIV-infected people globally in 2010, and AIDS is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the world.