A recent study out of Case Wester Reserve University has demonstrated the potential for the herpes-fighting drug valacyclovir (brand name Valtrex) to reduce the HIV-1 viral load.
The research, produced by a team lead by Dr. Benigno Rodriguez, indicates that even in the absence of actual herpes exposure in the treated patient, valacyclovir can be beneficial to HIV-positive patients. The revelation is important for a few reasons. First, it rebuts a long-held clinical assumption that in order for Valcyclovir effectivity against HIV relied on a herpes co-infection. Second, it suggests that Valacyclovir can be used as a weapon against HIV in a whole other cohort of patients that were previously not offered this medication. Given the rate at which HIV strains gain resistance to antiretrovirals, this revelation is particularly critical.
Moreover, Dr. Rodriguez explained, the data indicates that "the mechanism by which Valacyclovir acts against HIV is not only through the presence of HSV-2." Instead, it is generally activated in virus-infected cells, which then in turn "block the ability of HIV to reproduce."
Though the data was analyzed at CWRU, the initial trial that eventually gave rise to this paper was conducted in Lima, Peru in July 2012. In order to avoid the ethical quandary of giving patients medication and others a placebo, the 18 patients were split into two cohorts, and each spent 12 weeks on Valcyclovir and then 12 weeks off it (for the other cohort, the order was reversed). Evidence indicated that viral loads went down while on Valacylovir across all study participants.
This study provides new potential targets for drug development.