MELVILLE, N.Y. – A drug that zeros in on a novel HIV target and disables a key link in the infection process can successfully treat patients who have failed other therapies, Stony Brook University doctors have found.

Dr. Roy Steigbigel, chief of Stony Brook University Medical Center’s HIV program, said there is a new class of anti-viral medications called integrase inhibitors that can “rescue people on a downward curve,” those for whom resistance has made treatment difficult.

The medication Steigbigel and his team studied is raltegravir (sold as Isentress), the first drug in this new class. The drug attacks a viral enzyme called integrase, which facilitates the integration of HIV’s genetic material into a person’s chromosomes, and disables it.

“The study was done in people who had demonstrated resistance to at least one drug,” said Steigbigel, who reported results of the international study involving nearly 700 people in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

In the research, patients received raltegravir, manufactured by Merck & Co., in combination with other routinely prescribed HIV medications, or they received a placebo in combination with traditional drugs.

At the end of the 48-week project, Steigbigel found that 62 percent of patients who took raltegravir experienced a dramatic drop in HIV from about 400 viral copies per milliliter of blood to below 50 viral copies per milliliter. Only 35 percent of a control group had a similar decrease.

Steigbigel noted that medical science still has a long way to go to overcome the worldwide problem of resistance, which is caused by a variety of factors. Many people who are newly infected, he said, are acquiring resistant HIV strains from those already under treatment.

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