Medication for genital herpes is showing promise with HIV patients, according to a study published online in Clinical Infectious Diseases. The study by researchers from the National Institutes of Health; Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland; Emory University, Atlanta; and Lima, Peru, shows valacyclovir, a drug commonly used to control the virus that causes genital herpes, appears to reduce the levels of HIV in patients who do not have genital herpes. The study of 18 patients is the first to show that the drug does not require the presence of herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) to suppress HIV in patients. The researchers hope to confirm their results in a larger study.
“These findings are very encouraging,” senior author Leonid Margolis, PhD, head of the Section on Intercellular Interactions at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a news release. “If valacyclovir’s effectiveness against HIV can be confirmed in a larger cohort, it could be added to the mix of drugs used to suppress the virus and might prove especially helpful in cases in which HIV has developed resistance to other drugs.”
These results follow a 2008 study by the same research team, which showed that acyclovir suppresses HIV in laboratory cultures of human tissues that were infected with various kinds of herpes viruses. Valacyclovir is structurally similar to acyclovir, and is converted to acyclovir in the body. It remains in the blood longer than acyclovir and so would not need to be taken as often, according to the release.
The study included 18 HIV-infected patients, none of whom were infected with HSV-2. For 12 weeks, half of the enrolled patients took valacyclovir twice a day while the other half received a placebo. After two weeks, the placebo group received the drug while the group originally treated with the drug switched to the placebo.
The researchers found that when the patients took valacyclovir, their blood HIV levels declined significantly. The researchers’ genetic analysis found that the HIV in the study volunteers did not develop resistance to the drug, however they did not discount this could happen with long-term use. “Larger randomized trials and cost effectiveness analyses could be warranted to further explore the potential of [valacyclovir] in the context of HIV-1 infection, in particular in combination with other antivirals,” the study authors wrote, according to the release.
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