Gary Sadler took time off his high-paying, high stress job in banking to work full-time educating others about AIDS and HIV infection. Thirteen years ago, Sadler tested positive.
"At that time, it was a true death sentence because the medications were not as effective as they are today," Sadler says.
In 1996, patients began using a combination of anti-retroviral drugs, designed to keep the disease at bay. There are more than 20 aids drugs available in four separate classes, meaning the drugs work in one of four different ways. But for thousands of patients, HIV treatment is failing because the virus has developed resistance to those drugs.
"Oftentimes, the virus can develop resistance to one drug and it confers cross-resistance to all other drugs within that group," says Nicolas Sluis-Cremer, Ph.D., an assistant professor and member of the Viral Diseases Unit at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
That's why experts say new options are crucial. They're hailing the development of two new drugs, each of which represents a new class of HIV drugs.
Isentress is the first in a new class of drugs called integrase inhibitors. Taken twice a day, Isentress is designed to work by blocking an enzyme that allows HIV to insert viral DNA into the DNA of a person's immune cell.
Another drug, Selzentry, blocks a protein on the immune system cells that HIV sometimes uses as an entryway. Experts say one drug or the other would be taken in combination with existing AIDS drugs.
Sadler is healthy now. But if his current cocktail ever starts to fail him, he says it's good to know there are other drugs on the horizon.
"There's always the possibility that the disease can start moving forward," Sadler says.
Patients can still transmit the virus while they are on all of these medications. Worldwide, the diseases are still epidemics. There are an estimated 40 million people living with HIV or AIDS today.