Date Published: 4 July 2007

Research predicts HIV drug reaction

Specialists at Leicester's hospitals are taking part in research that is improving care for people living with HIV.

The antiretroviral drug abacavir has helped to revolutionise HIV treatment, requiring many patients to take just two pills once a day, instead of following a complex regime often involving four to five different medications.

Failure to comply by missing a dose can have devastating consequences for HIV patients, as the virus can quickly build up resistance to drugs which prevents them working.

But the drug can cause a rare but potentially deadly side effect in around one in 20 patients called 'hypersensitivity syndrome', leading to a severe skin rash and swollen joints and in rare cases death. This has put a number of patients off the drug who could benefit.

Now patients at Leicester's infectious diseases unit are being offered gene testing as part of a research project which can accurately predict whether a patient will react through a simple blood test.

Patients with the gene HLA B5701 are up to 100 times more likely to have an adverse reaction to the drug.

Dr Martin Wiselka, consultant in infectious diseases at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and a clinical tutor at Leicester Medical School, said:

" The risk has put doctors and patients off trying the drug, but if we do a gene test before we start and identify the patients who will have a reaction we can use it more widely."

The results of the research are due out later this year, but Leicestershire's patients are now being routinely gene tested before being considered for the treatment. Those found to be unsuitable can be offered a range of other effective treatments.

" We strongly believe that the test will be useful", added Dr Wiselka.
" We will prevent reactions occurring, as those patients who test positive for the gene will not be given the drug, those patients who are negative for the gene test can be prescribed the drug safely. This is a first drug where we can test for a adverse reaction in advance of prescribing it. This would be useful for other medicines such as penicillin allergy."

The news has been welcomed by HIV and AIDS workers in Leicestershire.

Gordon Warren from Leicestershire AIDS Support Services (LASS) said:

" Although there are now a range of drugs available, whatever can be done to improve overall treatment options; reduce potential side effects; make it easier to take the drugs; and improve quality of life, is welcome."


Source: Leicester University.

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