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Once-a-Week HIV Injections May Free Millions From Pills

FILE - A women is seen performing an injection on herself.

An injectable HIV treatment is entering advanced clinical trials, potentially freeing millions of men and women living with the virus from pills. Developers say the once-a-week injections could help people living with HIV lead more normal lives.

The injectable drug, called PRO140, is a monoclonal antibody, or immune protein, that targets HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In the latest phase of studies testing the drug’s effectiveness, PRO140 suppressed the viral loads to undetectable levels in 98 percent of patients for at least one month.

Some of those who are HIV-positive saw their disease in near complete remission for 11 months.

The injection targets a specific version of HIV known as R5 exclusive that is active in 85 percent of early stage HIV patients, and 50 percent of late stage patients.

If proven effective, it could help a significant number of the estimated 33 million people around the world living with the AIDS virus.

Currently, most HIV patients take nearly 30 antiretroviral pills per week, for the rest of their lives, to keep the virus in check.

The pills can cause kidney and liver damage, psychiatric problems and in some cases, resistance to further treatment.

Nader Pourhassan is head of CytoDyn, the biotech company that has developed the injectable HIV medication.

In the trials, Pourhassan says participants had to stop their oral treatments.

“Patients who got off the pills and they had been taking the pills very well and they were tolerating it; however, every patient...reported a much improved quality of life. And the quality of life was sleeping better, higher energy levels and their headache was gone," said Pourhassan.

Pourhassan says PRO140 could become available in once a week, two-dose treatments in 2017 if all goes well in the advanced trials.

He says it would cost under $40,000 per year, less than HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy, to treat the AIDS virus.