Millions of people world-wide who have contracted a highly resistant strain of HIV could benefit from a new drug to treat the infection, according to UNSW research.

Co-authored by UNSW's National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR), the research shows that the majority of patients who have not responded to traditional treatments have had good results from a new combination therapy involving raltegravir.

Raltegravir is already available in Australia and was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme on July 1st, with clinical trials showing that it is safe, effective and with minimal side-effects when used with other anti-HIV medicines.

The study, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows raltegravir lowers the amount of virus in the blood to undetectable levels in 62 percent of people taking it in combination with other anti-HIV medicines.

Only one in three people who received a placebo plus other anti-HIV medicines had the amount of virus in the blood reduced to similar levels.

"This is the first drug in a new class of antiretroviral drugs called integrase inhibitors," says UNSW Professor David Cooper AO, the Director of NCHECR .

"The drug has a different mechanism of action, is very potent, seems very safe and has helped patients who have a virus that is resistant to older drugs and classes.

"It initially will be used in developed countries, but hopefully it will be made available at cheaper prices for patients in developing countries who are facing the same problems," Professor Cooper says.

The results were based on analyses of viral load reductions and CD4 cell count increases. A high CD4 cell count is crucial for a healthy immune system.

The overall results have been drawn from two major ongoing clinical trials in Europe, Asia, Australia and North and South America. Both studies are supported by Merck & Co, Inc., the manufacturer of raltegravir.

Professor Cooper is the first author of the second of two papers published in this edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. The first is led by Professor Roy Steigbigel from Stony Brook University Medical Center.

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