Study: Viramune as effective as Sustiva

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 19 2003 1:00 AM ET

A new study by researchers in Amsterdam shows that the anti-HIV medication Viramune is just as effective as the more expensive anti-HIV medication Sustiva, The Wall Street Journal reports. The 1,216-person study found that Viramune, which is sold by Boehringer Ingelheim at a wholesale price of $366.94 for a month's supply, successfully suppressed HIV infection in about 70% of the people who took it for six months as part of an anti-HIV drug cocktail. That success rate was the same as seen with Bristol-Myers Squibb's Sustiva, which sells for $449.64 a month. Sustiva is prescribed in the United States about twice as often as Viramune. Both drugs are in the nonnucleoside reverse trancriptase inhibitor class of anti-HIV medications.

The researchers, who presented their study at the 10th annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, say their findings could cause a shift in the market between the drugs in favor of the cheaper medication, particularly in state-run AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, most of which are desperately looking for ways to cut costs because of state budget deficits. The Department of Health and Human Services also currently recommends Sustiva as the preferred drug in its class, but officials at the retroviruses conference said government officials will be looking closely at this new research.

The researchers did note that for some people the drugs aren't easily interchangeable because of the different side effects of the medications. But many could still benefit by taking either drug, they said. "What's reassuring is that doctors and patients know they have alternatives," said lead study author Joep Lange. "They don't have to worry that one might not be as effective as the other."