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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

New HIV Drugs Show Promise, Need Testing

Research on a new type of HIV drug, developed by UMass Medical Center professor Dr. Celia Schiffer and her colleagues, received a second round of funding from UMass President Jack Wilson’s Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Properties (CVIP) grant this year. The new protease-inhibiting drug targets highly resistant strains of HIV.

Because HIV adapts fairly quickly to resist treatment, new drugs are continually being developed to combat advancing forms of the virus. The idea behind Dr. Schiffer’s research was to create a drug treatment that would contain HIV without allowing it to mutate further.

“We studied molecular basis for drug resistance specifically on HIV,” said Dr. Schiffer. “The huge problem with many medications [that treat] HIV is that people become resistant to them.”

This investigation lead to the creation of a compound that in nearly every possible case eliminates HIV mutation. The only way that the virus could mutate and escape the new inhibitor has never been observed in testing.

The testing that determined the effectiveness of the drug compound-funded in part by last year’s CVIP research grant-was an early step in the process to making it marketable. The further research and testing required to ensure that the new drug is viable will require extensive funding.

“It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Dr. Schiffer. “We need some organizations with deep pockets [to fund further testing]. These initial tests [funded by $25,000 the 2009 CVIP grant] will make our compounds that much more appealing for development.”

The CVIP grant will fund preliminary testing to see if the drugs will be tolerated in living cells and organisms. The first step is to see if they are toxic to animals.

“The problem with HIV inhibitors and a lot of other drugs is you can’t really tolerate much toxicity if you are taking any medication for a long period of time,” said Dr.Schiffer.

Dr. Schiffer described herself as cautiously optimistic about the viability of the drug compound she developed. But there is no way to predict how this drug will respond to testing.

“For a new drug to get approved against HIV it really has to be free from side effects,” said Schiffes. “It’s a major problem in designing immune therapies.”

World wide there are about 33 million people infected with HIV of all different levels of resistance. People who have particularly resistant strains of the virus are able to transmit that strain. As the virus develops and spreads containment is vital, and sex education is important to this process, Schiffer said.

A cure for HIV or a reliable vaccine does not seem likely in the near future, but as research methods and the understanding of the virus improves drug treatments are becoming less invasive and more effective.

The research for this new drug compound resulted from the collaboration of several different Universities from various parts of the US, and began 11 years ago at UMass Medical Center, in Dr. Schiffer’s lab. Schiffer said that she was attracted to UMass because it seemed a fertile environment for research.

“When hired here as a new assistant professor, I was attracted to the university because it had the energy to go new places,” said Dr. Schiffer. “Since I’ve been here there’s been a lot of growth.”

Whatever the tests on these new inhibitors find, the research on HIV continues to increase understanding of the virus. Dr. Schiffer’s research uncovered a way of looking at viruses applicable beyond HIV, which could affect hepatitis C and cancer research as well.