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  • AIDS drug could stop new cases

A drug currently used to treat HIV infection could one day be taken to prevent new cases of the disease, a new study suggests.

The US study of nevirapine — which was designed to assess its safety in healthy people — tested low doses of the drug on 33 people at high risk of contracting HIV because of sexual practices or drug injection. No serious adverse side effects were seen in any of the participants. Neither did any contract HIV. The findings are reported in the 7 March issue of the journal AIDS.

"This is a new concept for prevention of HIV infection," says J. Brooks Jackson, at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, who led the study. Having determined the safety of the dose, the researchers are now planning a large-scale clinical trial to see if the drug can indeed prevent new HIV infections in people at high risk.

When taken twice a day, nevirapine is one part of the routine anti-retroviral therapy used to keep infection with HIV from developing into AIDS. The doses used in the study, a fraction of the usual treatment dose, were chosen to spare the liver from damage but keep the blood level of the drug high enough to potentially provide a benefit.

One concern is that long-term use of nevirapine might make the drug less effective if HIV infection does occur. However, this may be a risk worth taking if the drug is well tolerated and prevents infections, says Jackson, especially since HIV infection rates are rocketing. "We can't afford to wait for a vaccine," he adds.
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