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Gilead Sciences on Tuesday announced that the company entered into a licensing agreement with Japan Tobacco, under which JT has granted to Gilead exclusive rights to develop and commercialize a novel HIV integrase inhibitor (JTK-303) in all countries of the world, excluding Japan, where JT will retain rights. Integrase is one of the key enzymes required for HIV to replicate. By inhibiting this enzyme, the integration of HIV DNA into the DNA of immune system cells--the process by which infection occurs--is disabled. A resulting drug would be the first in a new class of anti-HIV medications aimed at crippling HIV at a previously untargeted stage of the infection and replication process. JT's compound has previously been evaluated in a Phase I study in Japan to assess bioavailability and pharmacokinetics in healthy volunteers. Gilead plans to initiate Phase I/II clinical studies in HIV-positive patients by midyear.