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J Med Chem. 1998 Feb 12;41(4):602-17.

Discovery of ritonavir, a potent inhibitor of HIV protease with high oral bioavailability and clinical efficacy.

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  • 1Pharmaceutical Products Division, Abbott Laboratory, Abbott Park, Illinois 60064, USA.


The structure-activity studies leading to the potent and clinically efficacious HIV protease inhibitor ritonavir are described. Beginning with the moderately potent and orally bioavailable inhibitor A-80987, systematic investigation of peripheral (P3 and P2') heterocyclic groups designed to decrease the rate of hepatic metabolism provided analogues with improved pharmacokinetic properties after oral dosing in rats. Replacement of pyridyl groups with thiazoles provided increased chemical stability toward oxidation while maintaining sufficient aqueous solubility for oral absorption. Optimization of hydrophobic interactions with the HIV protease active site produced ritonavir, with excellent in vitro potency (EC50 = 0.02 microM) and high and sustained plasma concentrations after oral administration in four species. Details of the discovery and preclinical development of ritonavir are described.

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