Saturday, July 15, 2006

Health News: HIV Triple Drug Cocktail

Category: Health News

WASHINGTON — The federal government on Wednesday approved the first HIV treatment that packs a triple-drug cocktail into a one-a-day pill.

Doctors say the salmon-colored pill will vastly simplify AIDS care and turn what a few years ago was a bothersome regimen of 20 or 30 tablets to one pill taken before bed.
To be sold as Atripla, the pill includes doses of three drugs now sold in the USA by two companies. The drugs are Bristol-Myers Squib's Sustiva and Gilead Pharmaceutical's Truvada, a combo of Viread and Emtriva.

Taking the trio as a single pill makes it less likely that patients will miss doses, which would allow the virus to rebound and become resistant to treatment, doctors say. Keeping the virus in check also helps lower the risk that a patient will infect someone else.

"To me, it achieves the ultimate goal," says AIDS specialist John Bartlett of Johns Hopkins University. "It's a pill you can take without regard to meals, it's about as potent a regimen as we have, and it's relatively free of side effects."

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in three months, as part of a fast-track process introduced two years ago, after research showed the pill is equivalent to the drugs taken separately. The wholesale price of a 30-day supply of the pill will be $1,150.88, the same as Truvada and Sustiva purchased separately, Gilead officials say. Atripla is expected to be on sale within four days.

Click here for the full article.

In this area, I've not had any experience with HIV patients. Oh, I'm sure I've probably chatted with them and not even known about it. It's not like people go around wearing a sign that says "I have HIV." But what I mean is that I never saw an HIV infected person as a patient, for the specific purpose of checking up on their HIV status. What little I know about the lifestyle these people have to lead comes mostly from TV and movies and a few lectures in the first two years of medical school, none of which could possibly convey what these people go through.

I think it's fantabulous that they've combined several pills into one. I'm sure that people who have to take these drugs will have at least a somewhat improved quality of life just because of it. But it's still expensive, expensive, expensive. One of the lectures I had in school about HIV/AIDS was actually pretty good. A comment was made that Magic Johnson has had HIV for years and years now, has never converted to full-blown AIDS, has a super low viral load, and may eventually be called "cured". Why? Because he has the money to pay for all the hottest and sexiest new HIV therapy. So, with lots of money and resources, does that mean this virus can be eradicated from someone's body? Does this make HIV a class-based disease then?

But back to the topic: I'm usually all for combining pills. Even in "ordinary" diseases like hypertension, I've seen in the clinic that combined pills really do improve compliance and therefore the health of the patient. I hope HIV patients who take the new cocktail enjoy their newfound freedom from having take 9 billion pills a day, and maybe even keep their CD4 count up for a longer time. If they can afford it.


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