Treatment training manual

3. 5 How HIV drugs work – main types of drugs

Like every living thing, HIV need to reproduce itself in order to survive.

HIV does this inside CD4 cells – and this involves many different stages. HIV drugs work by interfering with some of these stages.

There are currently six classes of drugs:

  • Entry inhibitors. This includes fusion inhibitors and CCR5 inhibitors.
  • Nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (nukes or NRTIs).
  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (non-nukes or NNRTIs).
  • Integrase inhibitors (INIs).
  • Protease inhibitors (PIs).
  • Budding and maturation inhibitors (research stage only).

Different drugs work at different stages of the HIV life cycle

  • HIV uses CD4 cells as factories to make hundreds of copies of itself.

HIV lifecycle 2013 no txt

  • Entry inhibitors work by stopping HIV getting into the CD4 cell.
  • Nukes and non-nukes work by stopping one of the main ways HIV reproduces inside the CD4 cell.
  • Integrase inhibitors work by stopping HIV from being integrated into the CD4 cell’s DNA (genetic material).
  • Protease inhibitors work by stopping any new HIV from being cut into smaller, manageable proteins.
  • Budding and maturation inhibitors work by stopping any new HIV from being able to go on to infect other CD4 cells. None are currently approved.

Further reading

The 2015 i-Base/TAG pipeline report includes a chapter on antiretrovirals. This is a review of new drugs, combinations and drug classes in development.

Last updated: 1 January 2016.