The rational alternative for AIDS

By Steve Usdin
Contributing Editor

WASHINGTON — The race to develop HIV protease inhibitors is shaping up as a demonstration of the promise of rational drug design. Agouron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. are emerging with products that could counter the immense manufacturing problems confronting pharmaceutical companies who will be first to market with the drugs.
Both biotech companies say their anti-AIDS protease inhibitors are simpler to manufacture and require lower doses than those under development by Merck, Roche and Abbott.
The relative ease of manufacturing and resulting lower costs, combined with competitive efficacies, could help AGPH and VRTX penetrate the market after the early protease inhibitors demonstrate the drug class’s benefits.
At last week’s meeting of the National AIDS Drug Development Task Force, Merck reported Phase II data for its MK-639 protease inhibitor, showing reductions in viral RNA and increased CD4 counts (see CLINICAL RESULTS, page B6).
But discussion of progress of MK-639, Roche’s Invirase, and Abbott’s ABT-538 was dominated by the impact of manufacturing challenges on protease inhibitor development.