An HIV Drug You Only Take Twice a Year?

WEDNESDAY, July 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Scientists are reporting an early step toward an HIV drug that could potentially be taken only a couple of times per year.

A single injection of the experimental drug, called lenacapavir, was able to lower blood levels of HIV in a small group of patients. And it was capable of maintaining active levels in the blood for more than six months.

It all raises the possibility of one day having an HIV treatment that only needs to be taken twice a year.

The current treatment regimens for HIV — combinations of oral drugs often called “cocktails” — generally work quite well, said study co-author Dr. Martin Rhee.

“But patients often say that over time, taking daily pills can be a burden,” said Rhee, director of clinical research for Gilead Sciences, Inc. — which is developing lenacapavir.

So the hope is that longer-acting HIV medications could “free people from daily pills,” Rhee said.

Beyond that, he noted, longer-acting drugs could potentially offer a simpler way to prevent HIV in high-risk people: Right now, that’s done with a daily pill regimen known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).

However, much more work remains ahead. The new study, published July 1 in the journal Nature, offers a “proof of principle” that a dosing interval of every six months is possible, Rhee said.

The researchers found that in 40 healthy people, lenacapavir appeared safe and could remain active in the body for more than six months. And in 32 people with previously untreated HIV, a single injection reduced viral levels in the blood within nine days.

It’s encouraging that the drug is “amenable to dosing every six months,” said Dr. Rajesh Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston.

Gandhi, who is also chair-elect of the HIV Medicine Association, agreed there is a need for longer-acting HIV drugs.

The catch is that HIV is not treated with one drug alone — to keep the virus suppressed and limit the chances of it becoming resistant to medication.

So, for any twice-a-year regimen to become a reality, Gandhi explained, two long-acting drugs would have to be paired.

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