UCL research reveals increasing resistance to key HIV drug

UCL research reveals increasing resistance to key HIV drug

Lorna Miri reports on the latest findings from UCL research on HIV

A recent study led by UCL has shown that resistance to a key Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) treatment drug has grown increasingly common.

HIV is regarded as the world’s most deadly infectious disease according to the World Health Organisation. Tenofovir forms a vital part of its treatment. It is also used to treat Hepatitis B and is notable for having relatively few side effects. Once patients can no longer use first-line drugs, they must resort to expensive second-line treatment with greater aftereffects. As such, the removal of Tenofovir from medical treatment would prove a significant loss.

HIV resistance is developed in two ways. Firstly, poor administration of the drug causes mutation; failing to maintain the correct levels of the drug allows the virus to overcome it and become resistant. Secondly, someone carrying the strain transfers it to others. This is especially alarming, as even those who correctly administer the drug are at risk.

Dr Ravi Gupta, the Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the UCL NHS Foundation Trust and the lead author of the paper, remarked that “Tenofovir is a critical part of our armamentarium against HIV, so it is extremely concerning to see such a high level of resistance.”

Scientists at Stanford University and the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted the research published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. Their results show that 60% of HIV patients in sub-Saharan Africa tested positive for Tenofovir-resistant strains. This is considerably larger than the 20% found in European patients.

Although further research is required to determine how HIV became resistant to Tenofovir, the results of this study serve as reminder of the very present problems of HIV drug resistance. Particularly in developing countries where there is a need for cost-effective tests that screen for resistance, and for the HIV infection in the first instance.

Featured Image credit: UCL

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