NEW YORK -- Merck & Co. disclosed that it has developed a novel type of drug for fighting the AIDS virus and that it started pilot tests of the drug in humans last month.
The drug was developed with unusual swiftness, in less than six months, and marks the first entry by the Rahway, N.J.-based drug-maker into the worldwide effort to develop medicines to defuse the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV-1, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The drug works by deactivating an enzyme called reverse transcriptase that is necessary for HIV-1 to reproduce.
The pharmaceutical company said its new drug is different from a drug reported two weeks ago by researchers at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. The Boehringer and Merck drugs, however, both work against the reverse transcriptase enzyme in a manner that differs significantly from that of AZT, the only drug now approved for use against the virus.
Officials at Boehringer in Ridgefield, Conn., and at Merck said that laboratory tests of their novel enzyme blockers show that the drugs are more potent than AZT, but they aren't certain the new drugs are less toxic than AZT, or that the drugs will work in people.
Merck appears to be ahead of Boehringer in finding those answers, since it began human safety tests of its new compound in an unnamed site in Europe in November.
Merck began similar safety tests last week at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., administering it to people who are infected by HIV-1 but have yet to develop problems in their immune system.