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World AIDS Day Roundup

Structure of an antibody that's unusually active against HIV strains. Robert Pejchal/
Scripps Research Institute

Today is World AIDS Day. Here are some selected tidbits of basic science and business developments in the HIV/AIDS arena that we’ve covered in 2010. (Some C&EN links are subscriber-only).

In May, Belgian scientists reported early results on the path to a new type of antiviral- one that blocks an interaction between HIV integrase, which helps the virus integrate its DNA into that of a human host cell, and a human protein that is critical for this process as well. In contrast, the FDA-approved drug raltegravir interferes with the integrase protein itself. The Belgian scientists’ report, which you can read here, does not include tests on humans or animals, but it suggests that the approach of blocking this interaction, rather than going straight for the integrase itself, might be a viable option for AIDS drug development.

In June, two independent teams determined what an antibody with unusually potent and broad activity against HIV strains looks like. The teams hoped this information could give a boost to the search for an AIDS vaccine. These results, which you can read here and here, are preliminary and nothing has been tested in animals or people yet. But because an AIDS vaccine would have to generate a stronger immune response to the virus than the body is capable of on its own, any clues as to how to make that immune response stronger (say, with a really powerful antibody) are welcome to scientists.

In July, researchers at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna reported that a microbiocidal gel containing 1% tenofovir (brand name Viread), an antiretroviral drug, helped lower the risk of contracting HIV and genital herpes. Unlike the more preliminary work I mentioned earlier, this study was done in human patients.

Also in July, Gilead Sciences announced it would close its research site in Durham, NC by the end of this year. Gilead first acquired the site when it bought Triangle Pharmaceuticals in 2003. Triangle scientists’ drug discovery efforts had led to Gilead’s AIDS drug Emtriva, which won regulatory approval months after Gilead acquired the business. NC-based news outlet the News-Observer had extra details on company history when the news broke:

Triangle was one of the Triangle’s most promising young drug companies. It was formed in 1995 by a group of former Burroughs Wellcome executives led by the late David Barry, who was a co-inventor of the first major AIDS drug, AZT. Tragedy struck the company in 2002 when Barry died of a heart attack at age 58.

And finally, at August’s American Chemical Society National Meeting in Boston, David S. Teager, a chemist with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, explained how his team reworked the multi-step recipe for tenofovir to cut costs- from $210 for a year’s supply of drug for one patient down to $87.

This is only a smattering of the news from AIDS research in 2010. But here’s hoping for more progress in 2011.

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