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Wall Street Journal Examines So-Called "Salvage Therapy" for People With AIDS Whose Illness Is Not Responding to Treatment Options

May 3, 2006

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday examined "salvage therapy," a "last-ditch effort" HIV/AIDS treatment that an estimated 40,000 drug-resistant people living with the disease in the U.S. are taking after other antiretroviral regimens have failed. According to the Journal, many people with AIDS using salvage therapy have lived with HIV/AIDS for more than 20 years and began treatment in the late 1980s and early 1990s using monotherapy, a single-drug treatment (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 5/3). Monotherapy -- which was used before combination therapy was initiated in 1996 -- gave HIV only one challenge to mutate past and has created a virtually impossible obstacle for researchers to develop effective HIV/AIDS-related therapies for those who have developed drug resistance (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/20). According to the Journal, there is no "single recipe" for salvage therapy, and some physicians use older antiretroviral drugs to attempt to control the virus or try to gain access to experimental treatments. Because of salvage therapy, most of the 40,000 people in the U.S. with drug-resistant HIV strains are "for now, hanging on," the Journal reports. However, Nelson Vergel, an HIV/AIDS treatment advocate in Houston, estimates that about "20,000 are in dire need" of a new treatment. Steven Deeks, an associate professor at San Francisco General Hospital who is currently studying 300 people taking salvage therapy, said rapidly switching from one drug regimen to another, a practice that was common in the early 1990s, spurred the development of drug-resistance. "We need to stop switching [drug therapies] so aggressively," Deeks said, adding, "We need to hold still until we have a number of new families of drugs." According to the Journal, Gilead, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer and Schering-Plough are leading the development of new experimental antiretroviral regimens. According to Vergel, new drugs may be available as early as this summer and spring 2007 (Wall Street Journal, 5/3).

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