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The Future of HIV Drug Treatment

Part of A Practical Guide to HIV Drug Treatment for People Living With HIV


In a Capsule

  • Treatment choices are constantly expanding as new antiretroviral drugs are developed.
  • Other forms of treatment, such as immune boosters and therapeutic vaccines, are also being investigated.

Nobody can predict the future. However, new antiretroviral drugs are constantly being developed -- some that belong to existing classes of drugs and some that belong to entirely new ones. As this guide is being written, a new class of drugs called integrase inhibitors is already available both for people who are starting treatment for the first time and for those who are "treatment experienced," and studies are looking at drugs from other classes as first-time options as well. The more options, the more alternatives to switch to down the road. Having entirely new classes to work with makes it much easier for people whose HIV is resistant to multiple drugs to build effective combinations.

Caution is needed with any new drug: Drug toxicities do not always show up right away and may only become apparent after people have been on medications for some time. There may be longer-term problems with integrase inhibitors and other newer meds that we will only become aware of in the future. This tends to divide people with HIV and their doctors into more conservative and more adventurous camps. Some prefer to stay with more "tried and true" drugs, despite the drugs' known shortcomings. Others are more willing to try out newer options that appear to be safe and effective in the short term, despite not knowing the possible long-term risks.

When I tested positive in the '80s, there wasn't much hope. There was no medication available. It was a death sentence. You had maybe a few years. I wish I had known then that researchers were working on medications that would mean that you could one day lead a somewhat normal and productive life.

-- Christian

In addition to antiretroviral drugs, other forms of treatment are being studied as well:

  • Immune boosters -- Immune boosters do not interfere directly with the HIV virus. Rather, they are intended to increase the number of CD4 and other immune cells, or otherwise boost the body's immune function.
  • Therapeutic vaccine -- Although most vaccines are designed to protect people from infection in the first place, HIV-positive people may also one day benefit from a type of vaccine called a therapeutic vaccine, meant to improve the immune system's ability to fight HIV.

So far, the results of studies of immune boosters and therapeutic vaccines have been disappointing. Some people hope that, one day, these sorts of treatments might delay the need for antiretroviral drugs, by keeping the immune system strong for a longer period of time. Most experts do not believe they will ever replace antiretroviral drugs. Only time and further study will tell whether this turns out to be the case.

The End ... but Not Really


HIV treatment information changes regularly. By the time you read this, there may be new information that could affect your treatment choices. In this guide, we have tried to focus less on particular antiretroviral drugs and more on ways to go about making decisions, which should stay reasonably constant over time.

When you're looking for information about current treatment options, always reach for the very latest information -- via treatment newsletters (CATIE publishes TreatmentUpdate and CATIE News), websites (check us out at, your local AIDS service organization and, of course, your doctor and other healthcare providers. You can also call CATIE's information support line at 1-800-263-1638 to speak with one of CATIE's knowledgeable educators. They can answer your questions about the prevention and treatment of HIV and hepatitis C.

With that, we hope you'll make the best possible treatment decisions. We wish you good luck and long-lasting good health.


Managing Your Health -- a guide for people living with HIV CATIE-News -- Bite-sized HIV/AIDS news bulletins

Treatment Update -- treatment digest on cutting-edge developments in HIV/AIDS research and treatment

HIV and aging -- a booklet covering some of the issues facing older adults living with HIV

The Positive Side -- health and wellness magazine with articles such as:

  • "Growing Old Gracefully" (HIV and aging)
  • "Have a Heart" (HIV and the heart)
  • "A Mind of Her Own" (HIV and the brain)
  • "Good to the Bone" (nutrition for bone health)

Look in the e-zine index for more (

These and many other relevant resources can be accessed on CATIE's website (, through the CATIE Ordering Centre or by calling CATIE at 1-800-263-1638.

More From This Resource Center

10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Begin HIV Treatment

Are Your HIV Meds Working? Warning Signs and False Alarms

This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
More on HIV Medications
More on HIV Treatment

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