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One-a-day HIV pill approved

18th December 2007

The European Commission has given the go-ahead to a medication for those living with HIV which is contained in a single tablet to be taken once a day.

PillPacket1

The new medication, Atripla, is still not a cure for AIDS, but experts say it will revolutionise treatment for those living with HIV.

The earliest "cocktail therapies" in the 1990s involved an elaborate regime of up to 30 pills a day on an empty stomach, at different times of the day.

Atripla is now approved for marketing in the 27 countries of the European Union, including Norway and Iceland, although individual countries' healthcare systems will administer it differently.

The drug represents a major psychological breakthrough which experts say will have the effect of making HIV almost normal, about on a par with taking a daily statin pill to manage a heart condition.

Atripla is a combination therapy of three existing HIV drugs: efavirenz, the global market for which is divided between Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck; and Gilead Sciences' tenofovir and emtricitabine.

The three companies have collaborated on the pill, which was licensed in the US in July last year. Half of all newly diagnosed HIV patients now take it.

In order to take it, however, patients must not have harboured HIV strains with mutations conferring significant resistance to any of the three components contained in Atripla.

In the UK, it will be available through the NHS, but this will be at the discretion of primary care trusts and GPs.

Simon Portsmouth, a leading HIV consultant at St Mary's Hospital in west London said some side-effects were likely with Atripla, with more than half of patients suffering dizziness, abnormal dreams or sleep disturbances initially.

Gilead senior vice-president Paul Carter said a huge amount of manufacturing work had been needed to bring this drug to the market, and that trying to get three drugs into one pill had not been a straightforward procedure.

Negotiations are under way with Merck to make the pill available to people with HIV in Africa, at a lower price.

 

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