Injections cut need for HIV drugs

From Boston, at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infection

An experimental vaccine, when given to people infected with HIV, appears to reduce their dependence on antiviral drugs. Minimizing the need for the drugs, which must be taken daily, could spare people from those medicines’ costs and side effects.

Yves Levy of Henri Mondor Hospital in Créteil, France, and his colleagues studied 71 HIV-infected volunteers receiving a standard therapy of antiretroviral drugs. To 34 of the volunteers, the researchers also gave a series of injections of the test vaccine, which is made of substances that stimulate the immune system. Those shots increased the activity and abundance of retrovirus-fighting immune cells, Levy’s team reported in the Feb. 18 AIDS.

In their latest research, the scientists discontinued the standard HIV therapy in patients with relatively subdued viral activity but restarted treatment if viral activity rebounded. That strategy minimized patients’ risks of drug-related side effects, including heart-threatening jumps in body fat.

During nearly a year of such treatment, volunteers who got the vaccine spent an average of 177 days off drugs, while those without the vaccine typically had to take drugs on all but 89 days.

None of the vaccinated patients, but five of the others, developed AIDS—the symptomatic phase of HIV infection—during the study, Levy reported.

Levy’s collaborators included France-based scientists working for the companies Aventis Pasteur in Lyon and Chiron of Emeryville, Calif., each of which provided a component of the vaccine.

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