According to statistics, there are approximately 2.5 million people infected with HIV worldwide and about thirty-four million people living with the virus. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS ( acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which means that the immune system is severely affected and eventually it leads to death due to opportunistic infections. Now researchers at the University of Georgia were able to develop a drug to attack the virus before it integrates into human DNA.
Vasu Nair, who is the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Drug Discovery in the UGA College of Pharmacy, said that they discovered a highly potent HIV inhibitor that targets the viral integrase, or ‘point of no return’ , as it is called by researchers, that is before the virus infects the cells in the body. He added that this inhibitor is very effective against many variations of HIV.
Nair believes that this inhibitor is an ideal target because it interferes with virus replication without involving the host (ie the patient ), so the risk for major side effects is very low. In replication, an important role is played by cell signaling. In the first stage, HIV infection triggers an immune response in CD4 + T helper cells, which causes other cells to protect the body. After having entered the body, the virus attaches to the surface of CD4 + T helper cells, penetrates them and then starts replicating. Nair said that of all the steps of HIV replication, the most devastating point is that when the virus integrates its viral DNA into human chromosomal DNA.
Integration of viral DNA into human DNA occurs after several biochemical processes that require a viral enzyme called HIV integrase. Only after this critical step can HIV begin to replicate in a large number of copies and destroy CD + helper T cells; in this way the body is defenseless against infections. However the drug developed by researchers at the University of Georgia blocks this viral enzyme; in other words the viral DNA cannot integrate into the host DNA. Nair admits that even though a vaccine to eliminate the virus is not feasible, however he points out that there are therapies that allow people to live longer while infected.
Researchers are now testing this new HIV drug in preclinical trials and up to this point, it seems to have a low toxicity. “There are potential ramifications of this invention in other therapeutic areas, as well as in co-infection therapeutics. This is perhaps the most exciting aspect of our discovery,” Nair pointed out.