A massive increase in new diagnoses for HIV is occurring across Europe as a new generation ignores messages about safe sex, a leading specialist warned this week.

Speaking at the 10th European Aids Conference in Dublin, Professor William Powderly of University College Dublin said over the past four years new HIV diagnoses had increased by 37% in Western Europe as a whole and by 70% in the UK. Of new UK cases 60% cent are among sub-Saharan African immigrants.

Heterosexual transmission has increased by 122% in western Europe and is the driving force behind new cases. Women now account for a third or more of European HIV cases, he said. In eastern Europe, a dramatic increase among intravenous drug users and their partners is the major driver with more than 210,00 new cases recorded in the last year alone. Last week researchers at University College London said many new cases involve infection with resistant strains of HIV acquired by sexual transmission from patients with disease resistant to first-line drugs.

Increasing drug resistance is driving up sales of Roche’s injectable antiretroviral agent Fuzeon (enfuvirtide) although not so fast as the company had expected. Roche reported at the conference that only 10% of eligible patients have been prescribed the drug.

Nevertheless sales have increased by around 50% compared with the same quarter last year, said Roche’s HIV products’ Lifecycle leader Claire Steers. Over 12,000 patients worldwide are currently taking the drug of whom 50% are in the USA and most of the remainder in Europe.

The company now plans to use findings of its Open Mind study to address issues identified as barriers to Fuzeon prescribing. It is also researching needle-free devices to administer the drug of which the first is expected to launch mid 2006 in the US and later in Europe, she said. The device is expected to reduce problems from injection-site reactions as well as offering an alternative means of administration to needle-phobic patients.

Meanwhile, the prospects for Roche’s protease inhibitor Invirase (saquinavir) were helped by new European Treatment guidelines launched during the conference which recommend a combination of saquinavir/ritonavir as a first choice for patients starting HIV treatment. The combination is already recommended as first-line treatment in the International Aids Society guidelines.

Source: Olwen Glynn Owen at the European Aids Conference, Dublin