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HIV/AIDS Drugs & Medications

Medically reviewed on Dec 27, 2016 by L. Anderson, PharmD

HIV Treatment Options

A diagnosis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be a shock to anyone and lead to many questions about treatment options and prognosis. However, early diagnosis, combined with advanced current treatments, and regular medical follow-up, can significantly improved the health outcomes of a patient living with HIV. In fact, many people with HIV who are treated appropriately and monitored closely can still live close to a normal life-span today. Treatment is important as roughly 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with HIV each year.

There is no cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS yet, but research has greatly expanded since the 1980’s. Treatment with HIV medicines -- called antiretroviral therapy (ART) -- is recommended for anyone with an HIV diagnosis. ART can delay the progression of HIV to AIDS and its infectious complications, improve the quality of life, and prolong life expectancy to near normal.

ART works to lower the viral load, which is the the amount of HIV in your blood. Lowering the amount of HIV in the blood may in turn lead to an increase of the CD4 count. This helps improve the immune system, increasing its ability to defend the body against HIV infection and lower the risk of progressing to AIDS. These medicines are not a cure for HIV or AIDS, and taking medication each day as prescribed is important to prevent HIV resistance.

Antiretroviral (ART) drugs inhibit the growth and replication of HIV. Most treatments for HIV/AIDS are given as several medications in combination. ART regimens typically consist of two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) plus a third agent, such as a protease inhibitor (PI), an integrase strand transfer inhibitor (INSTI), or a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). Plus, a boosting agent may be given to increase the blood levels of certain drugs.

The following tables list the main classes and groups of FDA-approved medications used to treat HIV in the U.S., with a brief description. Drugs and combinations are identified by generic and brand names, as well as common abbreviations. Follow the links to access the most up-to-date Drugs.com drug information such as dosing, side effects, drug interactions and pill pictures for each agent and drug class.

Antiretroviral (HIV) Drug Therapy List

Antiviral Boosters

Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
ritonavir Norvir RTV
cobicistat Tybost COBI
  • Antiviral boosters are medicines often used in conjunction with other specific antiviral drugs to enhance or increase their effect.
  • They might be used in conjunction with the protease inhibitors like darunavir or atazanavir.
  • Antiviral boosters ensure the correct levels of drug are in the blood.

Antiviral Combinations

Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
abacavir, dolutegravir, and lamivudine Triumeq ABC/DTG/3TC
abacavir and lamivudine Epzicom ABC/3TC
abacavir/lamivudine/zidovudine Trizivir ABC/3TC/ZDV
atazanavir and cobicistat Evotaz ATV/COBI
cobicistat and darunavir Prezcobix COBI/DRV
cobicistat, elvitegravir, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide Genvoya COBI/EVG/FTC/TAF
cobicistat, elvitegravir, emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate Stribild COBI/EVG/FTC/TDF
efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate Atripla EFV/FTC/TDF
emtricitabine, lopinavir, ritonavir, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate AccessPak for HIV PEP Expanded with Kaletra FTC/LPV/RTV/TDF
emtricitabine, nelfinavir, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate AccessPak for HIV PEP Expanded with Viracept FTC/NFV/TDF
emtricitabine, rilpivirine, and tenofovir alafenamide Odefsey FTC/RPV/TAF
emtricitabine, rilpivirine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate Complera FTC/RPV/TDF
emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide Descovy FTC/TAF
emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate Truvada, AccessPak for HIV PEP Basic FTC/TDF
lamivudine and zidovudine Combivir 3TC/ZDV
  • No more taking handful of pills multiple times each day. Combinations of HIV treatments -- many recently approved -- have become more effective, easier to take, and with fewer side effects.
  • A person's initial HIV regimen generally includes three HIV medicines from at least two different drug classes. This generally includes two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) plus a third agent (PI, INSTI, or NNRTI), and possibly a boosting agent.
  • Combination agents can make treatments easier and help patients to take their medication each day as prescribed and adhere to their regimen long term.

Integrase Strand Transfer Inhibitors (INSTI)

Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
dolutegravir Tivicay DTG
elvitegravir Vitekta EVG
raltegravir Isentress RAL
  • Integrase is an enzyme needed by the HIV virus so that it can make copies of itself. Integrase strand transfer inhibitors, also just known as integrase inhibitors, block the action of integrase.
  • Integrase strand transfer inhibitors prevent human immunodeficiency virus from multiplying in the host.
Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
maraviroc Selzentry MVC
Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
enfuvirtide Fuzeon T-20
  • Fusion inhibitors like enfuvirtide block HIV’s ability to infect healthy CD4 cells.
  • When used with other anti-HIV medicines, these drugs can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood, increase the number of CD4 cells, and keep help the immune system healthy so it can fight infection.

Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs)

Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
delavirdine Rescriptor DLV
efavirenz Sustiva EFV
etravirine Intelence ETR
nevirapine Viramune, Viramune XR NVP
rilpivirine Edurant RPV

Nucleoside, Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)

Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
abacavir Ziagen ABC
didanosine Videx, Videx EC DDI
emtricitabine Emtriva FTC
lamivudine Epivir 3TC
stavudine Zerit d4T
tenofovir disoproxil fumarate Viread TDF
zidovudine Retrovir AZT, ZDF
  • Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), sometimes referred to as nucleoside analogs, were the first antiretroviral drugs to be developed, starting with zidovudine.
  • Viread (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) was the first nucleotide analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) approved for HIV treatment. Both classes work by blocking the reverse transcriptase enzyme crucial to the production and replication of HIV.
  • Nucleotide analogs are different from the nucleoside analogs, although they act in much the same way. In order for nucleoside analogs to work, they must undergo chemical changes (phosphorylation) to become active in the body. Nucleotide analogs, like tenofovir, bypass this step because they are already chemically activated.

Protease inhibitors (PIs)

Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
atazanavir Reyataz ATV
darunavir Prezista DRV
fosamprenavir Lexiva FPV
indinavir Crixivan IDV
lopinavir and ritonavir Kaletra LPV/RTV
nelfinavir Viracept NFV
ritonavir Norvir RTV
saquinavir Invirase SQV
tipranavir Aptivus TPV
  • Protease Inhibitors (PIs) work by interfering with the enzyme HIV protease, which in turn interrupts HIV replication at a later stage in its life cycle. This causes HIV particles in the body to become structurally disorganized and noninfectious.
  • PIs can cause a significant number of side effects due to drug interactions with some other medications metabolized by a particular enzyme system in the liver.

Treatment for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)

Generic Name Brand Name Abbreviation
emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate Truvada, AccessPak for HIV PEP Basic FTC/TDF
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with antiretroviral medications is a standard treatment that can be used to help prevent new infections among those at high risk for contracting HIV.
  • HIV treatment guidelines recommend that PrEP be used for people who are HIV-negative and at substantial risk for HIV infection, including high risk men who have sex with men; high risk transgender women, high risk heterosexual men and women; and high risk injection drug users.
  • PrEP, if used correctly, can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by over 90 percent. However, PrEP should be used with counseling on other risk reduction practices, such as correct condom use and safe needle practices.

Truvada is still the only FDA-approved pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) regimen. In April, 2016, the FDA approved Gilead's Descovy (emtricitabine + tenofovir alafenamide [TAF]), an HIV nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) for the treatment of HIV-1 infection. But unlike Truvada, Descovy is NOT approved for PrEP; it is not yet clear whether Descovy will work as well as Truvada for PrEP. Descovy contains tenofovir alafenamide (TAF) instead of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF). Phase 3 clinical trials comparing the effectiveness of Truvada to Descovy for PrEP are currently ongoing (December 2016) and sponsored by Gilead Sciences.

Slideshow: HIV & AIDS Update: New Treatments, Easier Options

For more information on AIDS/HIV treatment guidelines or clinical trials go to AIDSInfo sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You may also contact them at 1-800-448-0440.

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