The HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was first reported on in 1981, progressed in just 10 years to a disease afflicting 10 million people worldwide including 1 million in the US. In 1987, AZT was approved for treating HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, its clinical usefullness was severly limited by associated toxicities and the emergence of resistance. Three other drugs that were approved in the early 1990s suffered from similar liabilities. In 1990, the Liotta group at Emory University developed a highly diastereoselective synthesis of racemic 3′-thia-2′,3′-dideoxycytidine and 3′-thia-2′,3′-5-fluorodideoxycytidine and demonstrated that these compounds exhibited excellent anti-HIV activity with no apparent cytotoxicity. Subsequently, the enantiomers of these compounds were separated using enzyme-mediated kinetic resolutions and their (-)-enantiomers (3TC and FTC, respectively) were found to have exceptionally attractive preclinical profiles. In addition to their anti-HIV activity, 3TC and FTC potently inhibit the replication of hepatitis B virus. The development of FTC, which was being carried out by Burroughs Wellcome, had many remarkable starts and stops. For example, passage studies indicated that the compound rapidly selected for a single resistant mutant, M184V, and that this strain was 500-1000-fold less sensitive to FTC than was wild-type virus. Fortunately, it was found that combinations of AZT with either 3TC or FTC were synergistic. The effectiveness of AZT-3TC combination therapy was subsequently demonstrated in four independent clinical trials, and in 1997, the FDA approved Combivir, a fixed dose combination of AZT and 3TC. In phase 1 clinical trials, FTC was well tolerated by all subjects with no adverse events observed. However, the development of FTC was halted by the aquistition of Wellcome PLC by Glaxo PLC in January 1995. In 1996, Triangle Pharmaceuticals licensed FTC from Emory and initiated a series of phase I/II clinical studies that demonstrated the safety and efficacy of the drug. In August 1998, FTC was granted "Fast Track" status, based primarily on its potential for once daily dosing. While the outcomes of two subsequent phase III trials were positive, a third phase III clinical trial involving combinations of 3TC or FTC with stavudine and neviripine had to be terminated due to serious liver-related adverse events. Although analysis of the data suggested that the liver toxicity was due to neviripine, the FDA decided that the study could not be used for drug registration. Ultimately, in January 2003, Gilead Sciences acquired Triangle Pharmaceuticals and completed the development of FTC (emtricitabine), which was approved for once a day, oral administration in July 2003. A year later, Truvada, a once a day, oral, fixed dose combination of emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxyl fumarate received FDA approval and quickly became the accepted first line therapy when used with a third antiretroviral agent. In July 2006, the FDA approved Atripla, a once a day, oral, fixed dose combination of emtricitabine, tenofovir disoproxyl fumarate, and efavirenz, which represented the culmination of two decades of research that had transformed AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable chronic disease.
Discovery and Development of the Anti-Human Immunodeficiency Virus Drug, Emtricitabine (Emtriva, FTC).