About AIDS

New Drug Offers Exciting Option for Some HIVers

The most revolutionary new anti-HIV drug development since 1995 passed FDA muster March 13 with the approval of Fuzeon, offering added hope for some HIV+ people whose virus has already become resistant to the existing drugs. Roche/Trimeris' Fuzeon (FEW-zee-on), also known experimentally as T-20 or generically as enfuvirtide, is the first of a whole new class of drugs called fusion inhibitors, the first new class since protease inhibitors debuted seven years ago.

One of Fuzeon's greatest advantages is that it works outside the T4/CD4 cell, the target of HIV. By blocking the fusing of the HIV to the T4/CD4 cell, Fuzeon keeps the virus from getting inside to do its damaging work. This not only protects the immune system's T4 cells but should also reduce the "drug cocktail's" side effects, which are largely caused by medications poisoning the T4 cell's energy producers called mitochondria.

One disadvantage will be administration: Fuzeon must be injected twice daily, much like a diabetic injecting insulin. The greater drawback, however, will be cost, about $20,000 per year. Only patients with generous resources and those on the Roche charity program will likely have access.

Initially, Fuzeon will be used only for "salvage therapy" when a person's other viable treatment options have been exhausted by resistant virus. Fuzeon can be used to replace one or more of the drugs in a current, failing combination, because resistance to one class doesn't equate to resistance to the other two classes.

Fuzeon is just the first in a string of entry inhibitors coming online. Cost aside, this is brilliant and productive science that will have many applications not only in HIV/AIDS, but with other diseases, too. T-20's development may seem like molasses to those personally struggling with HIV infection, but as NIAID's Dr. Tony Fauci put it, Fuzeon's approval really is "a big deal."

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