Drugs to Treat HIV

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

HIV is a potentially deadly infection. So deadly that there are many different drugs out there that try and stop it. This lesson goes over the major classes of HIV drugs, examples of each, and explanations of their major function in stopping HIV.

Viral Drugs

Cut, copy, and paste. Oh, and hit enter while you're at it. Nope, this has nothing to do with a Word document. Oddly enough it has everything to do with drugs that treat an extremely dangerous virus that can easily kill a person in time, if left untreated. However, a person can live a largely normal life if treated properly.

That virus? HIV. This lesson focuses on drugs that treat HIV.

What is HIV?

Let's make sure you're up to speed on the basics of HIV. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is a virus that is transmitted by various bodily fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. Once it gains entry into the body, it begins to slowly kill important white blood cells. White blood cells are the cells of your body responsible for protecting you against infectious diseases. The type of white blood cell HIV kills off is called a T cell.

HIV (green) coming out of a white blood cell (blue).

Once HIV has killed enough of these white blood cells, your immune system is severely compromised. Numerous bacteria, viruses, and other organisms can infect a person with such a weak immune system, perhaps fatally. Previously harmless bugs that would never bother a healthy person can end up killing a person with the most severe stage of HIV, known as AIDS. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Drugs to Treat HIV

Now that you know the basics, let's get back to our enter key and cutting, copying, and pasting you're so familiar with. There are over two-dozen drugs that are designed to treat people with HIV. They work in different ways. In fact, they work in six main ways.

Cut, copy, paste, and enter. Let's get to it.

One class of HIV drugs is called the protease inhibitors. Drugs in this class include ritonavir, darunavir, and atazanavir, among others. These drugs do not allow an enzyme (a specific protein) to cut important protein molecules, molecules HIV needs to become functional.

Then there's the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) class of drugs. These include drugs like efavirenz, nevirapine, and etravirine. Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors is a really intimidating term, but we can make this easy. What that's really saying is that with these drugs, HIV can't copy itself and thus can't multiply to make more HIV. Another class of HIV drugs that blocks the copy function is called the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), like zidovudine, abacavir, and lamivudine.

What's next? Ah yes, the paste function. This is where the integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs) come in. These drugs include raltegravir and elvitegravir. This drug class prevents HIV from pasting its genetic material into T cells.

And finally, after disabling the cut, copy, and paste functions, all we're left with is disabling the enter key. How do we do that? With a fusion inhibitor called enfuvirtide or the CCR5 antagonist (entry inhibitor), called maraviroc. These drugs prevent HIV from entering the T cells in the first place!

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