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Generic Herpes Drug Could Also Suppress AIDS Virus

September 11, 2008

Scientists looking for treatments to control the AIDS virus may find hope in a cheap drug traditionally used to treat herpes.

Dr. Leonid Margolis of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, helped lead the study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

Researchers found that acyclovir can work against HIV, but only in tissues that are also infected with herpes.

“If you suppress herpes, HIV also goes down,” Margolis said.

Other studies have shown that people who take acyclovir have lower levels of HIV, while some suggest that acyclovir does not help prevent AIDS infection.

Margolis hopes to use the team’s discovery to develop new treatments and products to prevent infection.

“The findings open up promising new avenues of investigation in the fight against the AIDS virus,” NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander said in a statement.

Acyclovir was the first drug to be designed and made synthetically, without the use of any compounds from plants or animals. The drug has also been shown to be very safe, as it does not become active until it encounters a herpes virus.

Researchers had noticed that patients with HIV who also took acyclovir for herpes infections tended to have less virus in their blood, a measure called viral load. The lower the viral load, the healthier an HIV patient is.

Margolis said he may have found why previous experiments aimed at preventing HIV infection by treating patients for herpes failed.

“If you test acyclovir against HIV in pure cell lines, it doesn’t work,” he said.

And in the prevention studies, doctors were trying to completely suppress herpes. “If you suppress herpes virus completely, there is nothing to phosphorylate,” he said.

Like HIV, herpes takes up permanent residence in the body and cannot be eliminated. But drugs can suppress both to prevent symptoms.

HIV infects 33 million people globally. It has killed 25 million and there is no cure and no vaccine.

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