Providing a fresh impetus to the fight against AIDS, a new class of medication for people with HIV was introduced in Britain on Monday.
Raltegravir is available in the form of tablets, which may be taken twice a day by the patients. The medicine is approved for use with other antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV in about one in ten patients, whose therapy has stopped working.
Medical practitioners believe that raltegravir may become standard treatment. According to them, it may help prevent the progression of HIV into full-blown AIDS.
It was found in recent trials that three quarters of patients had had the prevalence of the virus in their bloodstream significantly reduced, compared to 40 per cent of those who took current medication alone.
Doctors say that some patients showed a marked improvement to the point where levels of the virus were "undetectable".
"While this is not a 'cure' for HIV it does mean we can suppress the virus to where it is virtually undetectable," Times Online quoted Mark Nelson, director of HIV services at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, as saying.
Raltegravir is the first in a new class of HIV treatments called integrase inhibitors, and it is hoped that the drug will avoid the risks of heart attack and cancer associated with existing medication.
"Raltegravir is going to be popular because it's very effective and it seems to have a good safety profile. Previous drugs have done a terrific job keeping people alive. But now we have to start thinking about safety," Nelson said.
It works by blocking integrase, an enzyme that HIV relies on to replicate itself. It affects the ability of the virus to infect other cells, and, thus, reduces the blood's viral load.
Made by the US-based company Merck, the drug is also known by the brand name Isentress.