AIDS drug cocktails halve new HIV cases in study

* Study finds HIV drug cocktail can be powerful prevention

* Findings “should be considered by doctors, policymakers”

By Kate Kelland

VIENNA, July 18 (BestGrowthStock) – Treating HIV patients with
cocktails of AIDS drugs helps to stop them spreading the
infection further and more than halved the number of new HIV
diagnoses in a study in Canada, scientists said on Sunday.

The findings show that treating those with HIV can not only
help them live longer with the often fatal and incurable disease
but can also be a powerful way of limiting the virus’ spread.

Researchers found that since the introduction of a treatment
plan called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) for HIV
patients in the Canadian province of British Columbia in 1996,
the number of new HIV diagnoses has fallen by 52 percent.

Their study also found that rates of other sexually
transmitted diseases went up, suggesting that it was the AIDS
drugs and not other confounding factors such as condom use or
less sexual activity, that produced a fall in HIV infections.

The results show that for every 100 patients placed on HAART
new HIV diagnoses fell by 3 percent, suggesting that this type
of treatment could significantly reduce the spread of the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.

Experts commenting on the findings, which were reported at
an international AIDS conference in Vienna on Sunday and in the
Lancet journal, said they should be used to shape future
treatment plans.

“Experiences such as those reported today should be strongly
considered by clinicians, national and international agencies,
(and) policymakers,” said Franco Maggiolo and Sebastiano Leone
of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Ospedali Riuniti in
Italy, in a commentary in the Lancet. “HAART might play an
important part in the future control of the HIV epidemic.”

The AIDS virus infects 33.4 million people around the world
and has killed 25 million since the pandemic began in the 1980s.
There is no cure and no vaccine but drugs can keep patients
healthy. Without treatment, the virus destroys the immune
system, leaving patients susceptible to infections and cancer.

More than 20 drugs are now on the market and can be combined
in various ways to control HIV, although it usually mutates
eventually and patients must switch to different combinations to
keep it under control. Drugmakers include Gilead (GILD.O: ),
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L: ), Pfizer (PFE.N: ), Merck & Co (MRK.N: ),
Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY.N: ) and Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N: ).

The Canadian team, led by Julio Montaner at the British
Columbia Centre for Excellence in Vancouver, analysed data on
HAART and looked at viral load of HIV patients — the level of
virus in their bodies — and at new HIV diagnoses in the
province, where residents get free HIV care.

HAART involves treatment with three or more AIDS drugs,
which can be either more expensive branded medicines or cheaper
generics, which are available at knocked-down prices in poorer
countries.

During three distinct time periods, researchers saw that the
number of people receiving HAART had a strong impact on viral
load and new diagnoses. As HAART coverage increased sharply, new
HIV diagnoses decreased sharply, and as HAART coverage
stabilised, so did viral load and new HIV diagnoses.

“Our results show a strong and significant association
between increased HAART coverage, reduced community viral load,
and decreased number of new HIV diagnoses,” Montaner said.

The annual number of new HIV infections around the world was
2.7 million in 2008, the same as in the previous year. This was
down from 3 million in 2001.
(Editing by Alison Williams)

AIDS drug cocktails halve new HIV cases in study