RICHMOND, England, Dec. 1 /PRNewswire/ -- On World AIDS Day 2003, the leading pharmaceutical R&D database Pharmaprojects reviews the current status of AIDS drug development, and highlights the urgent need to expedite the introduction of new and effective medicines. Data released last week by UNAIDS show around 40 million people worldwide are now living with HIV or AIDS, with 5 million new infections having occurred in 2003. AIDS kills more people than any other infectious disease -- 3 million this year alone.
Even in the industrialized world, where highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART (comprising combinations of nucleoside and non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and protease inhibitors) has transformed the outlook for AIDS sufferers, the problems of drug resistance, cumulative toxicity and poor patient compliance have tempered initial optimism that AIDS might evolve into a chronic, treatable condition. With the success of approved reverse transcriptase and protease inhibitors such as GlaxoSmithKline's Retrovir(R) (zidovudine) and Abbott's Norvir(R) (ritonavir), further interest in developing these agents has followed a precipitous decline since the late 90s. However, Pharmaprojects data shows that these compounds still account for 62% of anti-AIDS drugs (excluding vaccines) currently in the clinic.
Despite controversy surrounding its pricing, the launch earlier this year of Roche's HIV fusion inhibitor Fuzeon(TM) (enfuvirtide), was a notable event in AIDS drug development -- it being the first agent to exploit a HIV target other than reverse transcriptase or HIV protease. Only 15 other such compounds, representing a handful of novel drug development strategies, have reached the clinic. Examination of these agents shows that the focus of AIDS R&D has shifted somewhat to earlier targets in the viral lifecycle, including injectable CD4 antagonists and small-molecule CXCR4 and CCR5 blockers. HIV integrase, which mediates integration of viral DNA into the host genome, has long been considered an alluring target by AIDS drug developers, and inhibitors of this enzyme are now also showing promise in human studies.
Increasingly, the attentions of drug developers are focusing on the possibility of an AIDS vaccine. The AIDS epidemic has provided a stark illustration that the mere existence of an effective medicine provides no guarantee of its availability to those in need. With the controversy surrounding the access of developing countries to antiretroviral drugs, it is clear that this concern should not be neglected until after commercialization, but is best addressed by the choice of development strategy itself. As the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) states, "It is unrealistic to expect that AIDS, the greatest epidemic since the Black Plague, will end without a vaccine". A cheap, stable vaccine suitable for oral administration offers the only real hope for poorer countries, where more than 95% of new HIV infections occur. Picking up where the development of reverse transcriptase and protease inhibitors has trailed off, that of AIDS vaccines has steadily increased since 1998, with over 50 now in active development. Even so, the IAVI reports that AIDS vaccine R&D accounts for a vanishingly small fraction of global health R&D -- and only one AIDS vaccine has ever reached Phase III.
Although the AIDS epidemic continues to tighten its grip on the developing world, UNAIDS believes the political momentum to tackle this disease has never been greater. It is clear that drug developers must seize this opportunity, if AIDS R&D is to keep pace with the advancing epidemic.
Pharmaprojects, the leading database tracking pharmaceutical development from early preclinical study through to launch or discontinuation, has 23 years' experience as an information provider to the industry. Pharmaprojects uses a fully searchable application that allows you to pinpoint the specific information you are looking for, whether it be comprehensive drug profiles, a competitor's pipeline or licensing opportunities. Pharmaprojects is available monthly on the Web and via CD-ROM format; the data is also accessible weekly via online hosts PJB Publications, Dialog and Datastar, Ovid Technologies and STN International.
About PJB Publications
PJB Publications, established in 1976, is an independent publishing company of business-to-business information. Specialist areas of knowledge include pharmaceuticals on which it publishes the twice-weekly newsletter Scrip, medical devices and diagnostics, biotechnology, veterinary products, crop protection, agribusiness, clinical research and regulatory affairs.
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