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The world’s leading anti-HIV drug

KU Leuven has a long tradition of developing innovative and effective medications. One such medication is the antiviral agent tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, discovered in 1993 the KU Leuven Rega Institute for Medical Research, in collaboration with the IOCB in Prague and Gilead Sciences.

During the course of the discovery and development of tenofovir, the Rega Institute received funding from the 5th European Framework Programme for Research & Innovation (FP5) to develop a centralised facility that enabled a large scale anti-HIV activity analysis of natural and chemical compounds coming from many European sources. The KU Leuven team together with 6 other European teams in addition received the EU Descartes price for the research on tenofovir.

Tenofovir was licensed to the American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, which further developed it and now produces and distributes the drug under the trade name Viread® in exchange for royalty payments to KU Leuven. Tenofovir is also an essential component of the combination drugs Truvada®, Atripla®, Complera® and Stribild®, and has become the most commonly used anti-HIV drug in the world. In 2015, sales of Truvada® and Atripla® each totaled over $3 billion, while sales of Viread® reached over $1 billion. Drugs containing tenofovir are effective at reducing the HIV-titre in the blood, so that HIV-infected patients treated with these medications can manage the disease for many years.

Hepsera and Vistide are other examples of drugs that were discovered at KU Leuven in collaboration with the IOCB and have been licensed to Gilead Sciences.

Researchers/institutions: Professors Erik De Clercq and Jan Balzarini of KU Leuven’s Rega Institute for Medical Research, together with Professor Antonin Holý of the IOCB in Prague and Dr. John Martin of Gilead Sciences.