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New Anti-AIDS pill under development

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New anti-aids pillScientists are developing an anti-AIDS pill that can be taken before sex and prevent transmission of the deadly disease.

The successful development of such a treatment would be controversial because it raises ethical questions about the circumstances in which the pill should be taken.

Experts in the disease, which claimed two million lives last year, are involved in scientific trials on antiretroviral drugs that already used to prevent transmission of AIDS from infected mothers to their babies during birth.

Scientists are hopeful that similar protection can be offered during sex.

Three trials of antiretroviral drugs are underway around the world. A report published in the Lancet claims they are “showing great promise” as experts meet in Mexico City for the International Conference on AIDS.

More research has to be done on the side-effects of the pill and the development of resistant strains of HIV before it is made available.

Controversy is bound to arise over who should take the pill and for what reasons. Globally, use would probably have to be restricted to those at greatest risk from AIDS such as sex workers or injecting drug users.

The pill could also have a major impact on the lifestyles at a time when experts have observed that promiscuity is on the rise.

“The party scene involving multiple sexual partners is definitely back in London and probably in most European cities,” said Sheena MCormack, a specialist in HIV prevention and reader in clinical epidemiology at Imperial College London, said.

“There is metrosexual mixing involving gay, bisexual and some heterosexual cases. We estimate new HIV infections in gay men are running at three per cent a year.”

She added: “People could pop a pill on a Friday night and be covered for a whole weekend.”

The trials involve 2,400 drug injectors in Thailand, 1,200 heterosexual men and women in Botswana and 3,000 homosexual men in America, Africa and Asia.

Experiments on primates suggest that the drugs are effective and can prevent the disease being passed. But their success in humans has yet to be proved, the Lancet report by Nancy Padian of Women’s Global Heath Imperative, San Francisco, said.

The trials use tenofovir, a drug currently used to treat AIDS, with a combination of other drugs.

Tenofovir (Trade name Viread) is an anti-HIV drug approved by the FDA (In October of 2001) to be used in combination with other HIV fighting medications. Viread belongs to a new class of drugs called Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NtRTI). These are related to Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTI) like zidovudine (AZT, Retrovir). The body converts Viread into a chemical that prevent HIV from reproducing in uninfected cells, but it does not help cells that have already been infected with the virus. As people with HIV lose CD4 cells - one of the immune system’s main defenses - they become more likely to get infections and illnesses.

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