Two drug companies announced yesterday they will collaborate on developing the first all-in-one, one-a-day pill to treat HIV infection — a long-sought goal that would make...

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TRENTON, N.J. — Two drug companies announced yesterday they will collaborate on developing the first all-in-one, one-a-day pill to treat HIV infection — a long-sought goal that would make it much easier for patients to stick with their medication.

Currently, the best AIDS treatment requires patients to take two to four pills a day. Less than a decade ago, many patients had to take 25 to 30 pills a day, often at precise times and under specific conditions such as with food, making it extremely difficult for patients to stick to the complex schedule. Missing doses makes it easier for the virus to mutate and become resistant to medication.

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In the first collaboration by competing AIDS drugmakers, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Gilead Sciences formed a joint venture to test and market a single pill combining three widely used medicines. Because the three individual drugs are on the market, the once-a-day combination could be approved and on the market as early as the second half of 2006, said David Rosen, a Bristol-Myers Squibb spokesman.

The combination pill will be made up of Sustiva, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Viread and Emtriva, made by Gilead. The companies will have to find a way to combine the component drugs so that the single pill is absorbed the same way, has identical effects, lasts in the body as long and has the same shelf life, said Robert Lipper of Bristol-Myers.

The three drugs together cost $900 to $1,000 a month. Rosen said it is too soon to say how much the single pill will cost.