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Human Trials Begin for Anti-HIV Drug

Chinese scientists have announced that a chemical compound efficacious for treating both HIV and hepatitis B is being tested on humans.

Extracted from a Chinese herb called Inula britannic, the compound, 1,5-di-O-caffeoylquinic acid (1,5-DCQA), has proved to be able to work on HIV or HBV (hepatitis B virus) in a way different from current medicines, Dong Junxing, a leading scientist with the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, said on Tuesday.

"If clinical experiments back up initial findings, the compound will be an irreversible HIV and HBV integrase inhibitor, which provides a new alternative for AIDS and hepatitis B treatment," said Dong.

Another discovery is that the new compound has few side effects even in large doses. "Preliminary experiments on animals show that suspending, or stopping, the use of the compound during treatment does not lead to deterioration of the disease, which will be a big advance from current anti-HBV and HIV/AIDS medicines, such as the popular cocktail therapy," the professor said.

Dong and his team started research in 1993 with filtering effective anti-HBV constituents from more than 100 kinds of Chinese herbs. Two years later, they began to experiment on ducks and monkeys.

Aware of the similar duplication mechanism between HIV and HBV viruses at the beginning, Dong said he tried the chemical constituent on HIV after discovering its successful inhibition of HBV.

In his experiment with monkeys, he stopped medication after weeks and found that while most monkeys in the group treated by the cocktail therapy appeared to deteriorate, the other group taking the new compound showed better results.

"Half of the monkeys were recuperating; and the other half continued in a stable condition with our treatment," Dong said.

The research team has begun a six-month clinical research on about 200 healthy volunteers. "If it goes smoothly, a new medicine will be on the market in two years," he said.

"We will try a combined prescription of the new drug and current medicines to see whether it can have better efficacy."

The price of the new drug may be much lower than any other now available, Dong said, because they can synthesize the constituent chemically instead of extracting it from herbs.

(China Daily February 23, 2006)

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