Merck Sharp and Dohme has been boosted by the news that the Scottish Medicines Consortium has approved the use of its novel HIV drug Isentress on the National Health Service.

Specifically the SMC says that Isentress (raltegravir) has been accepted for restricted use in combination with other antiretrovirals in patients who continue to exhibit viral replication despite prior therapy and is restricted to those with triple class resistant HIV-1 infection. The Merck drug, which was launched in the UK in January, is the first in a new class called integrase inhibitors. It was approved in the USA in October last year and contributed $47 million to the firm’s first-quarter sales

Clifford Leen, a consultant physician at the Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust, said that HIV treatments “are being placed under the same level of scrutiny by commissioners as drugs for other therapeutic areas such as cancer, from both cost and efficacy perspectives”. The SMC approval, therefore, “signifies its important place within the HIV treatment armoury."

The SMC noted that the announcement comes on the back of the launch last month of new standards of practice for NHS sexual health services in Scotland, where sexually transmitted infections are reaching record levels. 5,415 people have now been diagnosed as having HIV in Scotland and 446 new cases of HIV were reported in 2007. This was the highest annual total since recording began in 1984.