A new revolutionary drug manufactured by a US biotechnology company could block the spread of HIV, say scientists after finding its benefits in a small-scale human trial.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) steadily weakens the body's immune system until it can no longer fight off infections such as pneumonia, diarrhea, tumours and other illnesses.
Unable to fight back, most people die within three years of the first signs of the disease. Most of all HIV infections have been transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who is already infected with the disease.
About 80 percent of people being treated for HIV show resistance to one or more of their drugs, a spokesman for Panacos said. There are several existing ways of tackling HIV.
Many medications work by blocking reverse transcriptase, an enzyme that enables HIV to replicate within a cell. Others disable protease, which helps to assemble the virus into particles to infect other cells.
The new drug, a derivative of betulinic acid, is a cheap by-product of the paper industry and one of a new class of drugs called maturation inhibitors.
It works by interfering with the production of the capsid protein, a conical "shield" which protects the genetic material of HIV inside it.
The drug is still in its early stages, and will not be generally available for at least three years, he said.
The small human trial of the drug reported that, given on its own, it rapidly clears most HIV from the blood, the study published in the Journal of Virology claimed.
Worldwide, over 36 million people were infected at the end of 2000 with HIV, the most dangerous sexually transmitted infection, with 95 percent of them in developing countries.