Glaxo bets it can shake up HIV treatment

GlaxoSmithKline PLC is pinning the future of its HIV business on an audacious bet: upending the decades-old treatment strategy that has turned a fatal illness into a chronic condition.

The treatment of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has changed little since the mid-1990s, when the introduction of a new class of drug dramatically improved HIV therapy. Doctors found that combining the newer type of antiretroviral drug with two drugs from an earlier class hindered the virus from developing resistance.

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A three-drug regimen has remained the standard approach since then, with drug development efforts focused on making ever more powerful triple combinations.

Glaxo executives want to change that. They hope the U.K.-based drug company’s latest HIV pill is powerful enough to suppress the virus with the help of just one other drug. That, according to Chief Executive Andrew Witty, would be a “game-changer,” because taking fewer drugs would produce fewer side effects.

Now, Glaxo’s majority-owned HIV business ViiV Healthcare, in which Pfizer Inc. of the U.S. and Shionogi & Co. of Japan hold minority stakes, is getting down to the long process of proving it.

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