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NCI Starts New Program to Investigate HIV Resistance

NCI Starts New Program to Investigate HIV Resistance

BETHESDA, Md—The National Cancer Institute has established a program to investigate drug resistance in the AIDS virus. NCI director Richard D. Klausner, MD, told the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) that the new effort will cut across NCI’s intramural program and that he expects it to involve extramural researchers and scientists from other institutes within the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Klausner called the project, to be headed by John Coffin, MD, “the first and only program dealing with the issue of viral evolution and resistance biology.” He predicted that the research, which will examine why HIV so readily develops drug resistance, will yield important findings and insights about “how we deal with this whole phenomenon of drug resistance.”

Dr. Coffin will direct the program at the Institute’s Frederick, Maryland, facility on a part-time basis. He will also continue in his position as director of the HIV program at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, where he is also professor of molecular biology and of microbiology.

Combination antiviral therapies have improved the survival outlook for AIDS patients and “are changing the face, at least for the moment, of this disease,” Dr. Klausner said. Nonetheless, he added, “it is unlikely that this represents a final answer and cure, and the issue of resistance remains a critical one.”

Relevance to Other Diseases

Dr. Coffin said that a significant number of treated AIDS patients fail to show complete suppression of their HIV load, and many others—“we don’t know the numbers, but they are starting to increase”—fail therapy because of drug-resistant strains.

“The problem that is going to be addressed by this program is the problem of drug resistance, particularly in the context of HIV,” Dr. Coffin told the NCAB. “But we certainly hope the scientific issues that we work with, and what we uncover, will be quite relevant to other diseases where drug resistance is important.”

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