Roche has published new data at the International AIDS Society conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which show that patients starting HIV treatment with the firm’s protease inhibitor, Invirase (saquinavir mesylate) boosted with a small dose of ritonavir, show no significant resistance to PIs.

The Staccato study of 258 antiretroviral-naive Thai patients, is important, Roche claims, because “resistance to treatment is one of the major challenges in trying to control HIV/AIDS,” and prior to this study, “limited data existed on the potential development of resistance following treatment with ritonavir-boosted Invirase.”

Only 10 of 258 patients experienced viral failure, none acquired major PI resistance mutations, and the data also showed that early use of a regimen of boosted Invirase plus two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors resulted in 91% of patients achieving undetectable levels of HIV in the blood at 24 weeks.

The data were published at the same time as David Reddy, head of Roche’s antiviral unit, told the Financial Times that the firm is looking to collaborate in the development of new HIV/AIDS drugs and “we are very open to discussion with other companies in this area.”

He said drugmakers had traditionally done little to co-operate, but with this disease, it was vital to provide patients with a cocktail of medicines and that required joint clinical studies. Mr Reddy also spoke of the importance in the fight against resistance of moves to make compliance with drugs easier by other initiatives, such as Roche’s move from capsules to higher-dose tablets that are easier to take and store more safely.

The fact that the meeting is in Rio is pertinent given that the Brazilian government recently threatened to override the patents of three manufacturers of AIDS drugs – Abbott Labs, Merck & Co and Gilead Sciences – because of the high price of their treatments and enforce compulsory licensing to local producers [[01/07/05]], and Mr Reddy warned off the dangers of undermining intellectual property. “It’s important that the environment continues to foster and reward innovation [and] the contribution that companies like Roche can bring should not be under-estimated,” he said, adding that “without R&D, there are no drugs. The generic industry is not the answer.”