Early this month, the 11th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections was held in the western US city of San Francisco. Scientists and doctors gathered to hear the latest developments in AIDS research.
Among the news coming from the San Francisco conference was that a new batch of HIV/AIDS drugs was being developed. This is important because HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, often builds up a resistance to medicines. Resistance means the drugs no longer prevent HIV from replicating. Currently, there are about 20 anti-retroviral drugs being used to fight the disease. This allows doctors to vary the combinations of drugs if a patient becomes resistant to his or her current therapy.
Dr. Vincent Idemyor is the director of pharmaceutical services at Advocate Bethany Hospital in Chicago. He’s also a faculty member at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Dr. Idemyor says while the research on new drugs is promising, there’s much testing to be done.
"The drugs are still in early phases. So the drugs are not out yet, so I won’t be too optimistic. There’s new drug research that explores how the virus enters the cell. There are also different pharmacological aspects being looked at based on the way the virus replicates. So all these are being done, but for now these drugs are not available."
In fact, he says, it could be years before these drugs are on the market.
Another story that made headlines at the conference concerned the drug, Nevirapine. It’s used to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus. However, a study showed women who took the drug to protect their newborns, later developed a resistance to it, affecting their own treatment.
However, a number of well-known researchers advised continued use of Nevirapine. South African AIDS researcher, Professor Jerry Coovadia told VOA that the resistance to the drug can wear off in about a year. And he says using the drug has saved the lives of many thousands of babies. Dr. Idemyor also says Nevirapine treatment should continue, but agrees with Professor Coovadia that it should be further studied and monitored.
"The WHO program and UNAIDS program in the area of mother-to-child transmission is centered around the use of Nevirapine. So we can then use the data from this conference, in terms of resistance of Nevirapine, after they’ve been given (the drug)to see how we can plan therapy after delivery or subsequent therapy for the mothers. So, I’m not saying they should discontinue use of Nevirapine completely because a whole, big programs are planned around it. But this additional information that we gathered will help us to design future therapies for these people."
The Nigerian born researcher says while the latest scientific knowledge is enlightening, it’s important to remember those in need.
"(To)See how we can translate the scientific research into dealing with the humanitarian crisis. And that’s probably what’s more important when I go to these conferences."
Dr. Vincent Idemyor recently returned from Nigeria where he says HIV prevalence continues to rise. He says he recommended to his colleagues there that scientists work together with the government and non-governmental organizations in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.