A randomized controlled trial of a protease inhibitor (saquinavir) in combination with zidovudine in previously untreated patients with advanced HIV infection

S Vella, A Lazzarin, G Carosi, A Sinicco, O Armignacco, G Angarano, M Andreoni, G Tambussi, A Chiodera, M Floridia, S Scaccabarozzi, K Facey, I Duncan, P Boudes, K Bragman

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This study assessed the activity and tolerability of an HIV-protease inhibitor, saquinavir, alone or in combination with zidovudine. A total of 92 previously untreated HIV-infected patients with CD4 cell counts < 300 cells/mm3 participated in a parallel, randomized double-blind study. Patients were randomized to receive one of five treatments, each three times a day: 600 mg of saquinavir; 200 mg of zidovudine; 75, 200 or 600 mg of saquinavir in combination with 200 mg of zidovudine. The primary treatment period was 16 weeks, with monthly extensions in patients who did not show major disease progression or toxicity. The main measures of the efficacy of therapy used were changes in CD4 cell counts and in the concentration of HIV-1 RNA in the plasma (as determined by quantitative polymerase chain reaction). The 600 mg dose of saquinavir in combination with zidovudine induced a 1.6 log (after 4 weeks) and a 0.7 log (after 16 weeks) median reduction in plasma RNA concentration; this reduction was greater than those seen in the other four treatment groups. The combination of 600 mg of saquinavir with zidovudine also resulted in a larger and more sustained improvement in the CD4 cell count than either saquinavir or zidovudine monotherapy or the other combination therapies. In the group receiving 200 mg of saquinavir in combination with zidovudine, the maximal median change in CD4 cell count occurred at week 2 (85 cells/mm3), and by week 16 had fallen to 15 cells/mm3. In the group receiving 600 mg of saquinavir plus zidovudine, the median change in CD4 cell count remained high for the 16-week period (median change of 48 cells/mm3 at week 2 and 61 cells/mm3 at week 16). Saquinavir was safe and very well tolerated, either alone or in combination with zidovudine. The incidence of adverse events was greater in the four groups receiving zidovudine therapy, and all the most commonly reported adverse events have previously been associated with zidovudine therapy. Few changes in laboratory values occurred during the study, except for known zidovudine-associated toxicities. The most frequent abnormalities were raised aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase levels, depressed calcium levels, and abnormally high or low phosphate levels. Despite the low oral bioavailability of saquinavir, combined virological and immunological data show definite antiviral activity in vivo for the combination of saquinavir at 600 mg plus zidovudine at 200 mg (each three times daily). The combination of drugs with different mechanisms of action represents an advance in the treatment of HIV infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-40
Number of pages12
JournalAntiviral Therapy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1996


  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents/administration & dosage
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • HIV Core Protein p24/blood
  • HIV Infections/drug therapy
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors/administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Viral/blood
  • Saquinavir/administration & dosage
  • Zidovudine/administration & dosage


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