Principles and practice of HIV-protease inhibitor pharmacoenhancement

HIV Med. 2001 Apr;2(2):105-13. doi: 10.1046/j.1468-1293.2001.00063.x.


Continually maintaining maximally suppressive drug concentrations represents a key defence against the emergence of resistance. If drug levels fall and replication occurs, the opportunity for mutant virus to be selected occurs. It has been increasingly recognized that variability in the pharmacokinetics of antiretrovirals, particularly protease inhibitors (PIs), means that drug exposure is not always optimal, giving the virus a chance to replicate. A significant number of patients receiving PIs two or three times daily will have trough (Ctrough or Cmin) plasma concentrations, which are close to, or below, the plasma protein binding-corrected inhibitory concentration (IC50 or IC95) during the dosing interval. It is primarily in this context that therapeutic drug monitoring of PIs has been proposed as an aid to patient management, to ensure that patients maintain adequate drug concentrations throughout the dosing interval. Ideally, an antiretroviral drug will have a pharmacokinetic (PK) profile that maintains drug levels well above the viral inhibitory concentration throughout the entire dosing interval. Beneficial drug-drug interactions have been shown to improve PI pharmacokinetics. Ritonavir (RTV) inhibits the key enzymes that limit the bioavailability or speed the metabolism of other PIs. It is therefore increasingly used for boosting and maintaining PI plasma concentrations. At low (100 mg twice a day) doses it acts as a pharmacoenhancer of indinavir (IDV), amprenavir, saquinavir, lopinavir and to a more limited degree nelfinavir. Using a pharmacoenhancer with a PI results in increased exposure to the PI, higher Cmin levels, and in most cases prolonged elimination half-lives. The long-term clinical benefits of PK enhancing are unknown as are the long-term toxicities, although the incidence of nephrolithiasis with IDV appears increased when IDV is combined with low-dose RTV in HIV-infected patients. Head-to-head clinical comparisons of boosted PI regimens will help answer some of the questions that remain with regard to PK enhancement.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents / blood
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacology
  • Biological Availability
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug Resistance, Viral
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / blood
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / pharmacokinetics*
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • HIV-1 / drug effects*
  • HIV-1 / physiology
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Mutation
  • Virus Replication / drug effects*
  • Virus Replication / genetics


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors