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On The Horizon: New Ways to Use Old Drugs

Part 3 (of 3)

May 2001

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

The drugs we have for HIV stop the virus, but slowly poison us too. Because of this and because there are so many pills it is very hard to keep taking them on time all the time.

Scientists and activists are trying out ways to make the drugs easier to take. Among the things being looked at are:

  • Ways to take drugs less frequently
  • Ways to help the immune system fight the virus on its own
  • Therapies that might detoxify some of the regimens

Taking Drugs Less Often

A critical experiment being done by the federal government is seeing if patients can take their medicines every other week. So far nobody has had any detectable virus even when they are not on drugs. If this keeps up, it will mean a way to safely take half the amount of pills, allow time for the body to recover from side effects, and of course, its only half as expensive. Of course, therapy interruptions should ONLY be tried under controlled circumstances, i.e. doctor supervised.

Complementary Therapies to Help With Interruptions

There is hope that adding something to jump-start the body's ability to fight HIV, long asleep after HIV becomes chronic, might enable longer drug free interruptions.

Drs. Bruce Walker and Eric Rosenberg at the Massachusetts General Hospital are undertaking one such effort. They are giving people an AIDS vaccine made by Agouron, called Remune, and seeing if this might strengthen the body's effort to fight HIV, making it possible for people to get off drugs for longer periods of time. In other studies data suggests, people on Remune have a slower rebound of virus when they stop treatment than those who do not take Remune.

Similar efforts using other vaccines are in the planning stage. Beth Israel Hospital in Boston will test the new Merck DNA vaccine this spring.

The bottom line for all of these efforts is simple: getting people off of drugs for as long as possible.

Complementary Therapies to help with minimizing the side effects of the antivirals and helping the immune system work better

All drugs have side effects. Some new ideas on how to manage them involve unproven methods, like the use of different herbs, dietary supplements, and vitamins and so forth to either reduce toxicities or help the body fight the bad effects of the virus.

For example, L-Carnitine is thought to help reduce the poisoning of a critical part of cells called the mitochondria.

It is known that an important detoxification system in cells is based on glutathione and glutathione levels can be low in people with HIV and that a food supplement like Immunocal increases it. There is even hope that Immunocal might reduce the amount of virus.

Orthobiotech's Procrit increases red blood cells, which is critical in the case of drug-induced anemia. Serono's Human Growth Hormone helps some people reverse drug induced wasting.

An important approach to managing HIV is the effort to use immune-based therapies to delay the need for antivirals.

Chiron's IL-2 may make it possible to postpone the use of antivirals.

There is hope that drugs like Hollis Eden's HE2000 can compensate for damage done by HIV, hopefully keeping people healthier longer without drugs.

All of these products will be tested but slowly, since none of them are made by big, wealthy drug companies.

Next Steps

There are ongoing efforts to use the old therapies in better ways. Among them are: Revitalizing failing regimens by boosting them, usually with ritonavir, using boosting as a way to reduce the frequency of dosing, changing therapies to simpler regimens, and a successful effort toward a once a day regimen using existing drugs. As data on these methods accumulate, we will share the good news with you.

David Scondras, longtime community activist and educator, is the founder of Search For A Cure and lead writer of Reasons For Hope, Search For A Cure's national HIV treatment series.

This article was reviewed by Dr. Alfred De Maria, Assistant Commissioner of Communicable Disease, Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

If you have any questions or would like to contact Search For A Cure e-mail us at

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

  • Email Email
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

This article was provided by Search for a Cure. It is a part of the publication Reasons for Hope.
See Also
More on HIV Medications
More on HIV Drugs in Development