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Anti-HIV Drug Set for Clinical Testing
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A new anti-HIV compound developed by Chinese scientists has been licensed for clinical testing on the mainland.

The drug, named Nifeviroc, looks set to become China's first entry-inhibitor for HIV treatment. It has been jointly developed by Pei Gang, a scientist at the Shanghai Life Sciences Institute, and Ma Dawei, a scientific researcher with the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry. Both institutes come under the China Academy of Sciences.

Ma said that Nifeviroc works by inhibiting CCR5, a protein that commonly exists on the surface of human immune cells.

"The CCR5 protein provides a medium through which the HIV virus can infect healthy cells. By deactivating the protein, the virus can be stopped before it enters the cell," Ma said.

Early tests have indicated that Nifeviroc has promising anti-virus capabilities and few side effects. Hopes are therefore high that it can provide an effective barrier against the HIV virus.

The drug, which is taken orally, can be used on its own, or as part of a cocktail therapy.

The world's scientists first turned their attention to CCR5 in the mid-1990s.

An American company is currently involved in third-phase clinical testing of a drug with a similar mechanism to Nifeviroc, and this is expected to become the world's first oral HIV entry-inhibitor.

It will be a further three to five years before Nifeviroc is ready to be put into clinical use, the scientists said.

Pei and Ma have so far spent six years on the development of the drug. "It is perfectly normal for the development of a new drug to take 10 years or more," Ma said.

Chen Li, general manager of Target Pharmaceutical Co Ltd -- co-founded by the two science institutes and Fudan Zhangjiang Bio-Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, said: "China generally lags behind the West when it comes to the development of pharmaceuticals, but Nifeviroc has an independent intellectual property.

"According to laboratory test results, its effects were just as good as those achieved by the American scientists."

Chen said Nifeviroc would also be cheaper than other drugs available. "The price will definitely be lower than foreign drugs," he said.

Ma said that a cooperation contract for the international marketing of Nifeviroc had recently been signed with an Australian firm.

"Chinese pharmaceutical companies do not have the experience to effectively market a drug like this on a global scale," Ma said.

"We are not familiar with the different regulations and laws each country has, and we also need help with funding.

"However, when the drug is introduced on to the market, we will be paid for the intellectual property rights and also get a percentage of the sales revenue," Ma said.

(China Daily April 17, 2007)

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