Background: Hypericin, the active compound in St. John's Wort, has antiretroviral activity in vitro. Many HIV-infected persons use St. John's wort.
Objective: To evaluate the safety and antiretroviral activity of hypericin in HIV-infected patients.
Design: Phase I study.
Setting: Four clinical research units.
Patients: 30 HIV-infected patients with CD4 counts less than 350 cells/mm3.
Intervention: Intravenous hypericin, 0.25 or 0.5 mg/kg of body weight twice weekly or 0.25 mg/kg three times weekly, or oral hypericin, 0.5 mg/kg daily.
Measurements: Safety was assessed at weekly visits. Antiretroviral activity was assessed by changes in HIV p24 antigen level, HIV titer, HIV RNA copies, and CD4 cell counts.
Results: Of the 30 patients who were enrolled, 16 discontinued treatment early because of toxic effects. Severe cutaneous phototoxicity was observed in 11 of 23 (48% [95% CI, 27% to 69%]) evaluable patients, and dose escalation could not be completed. Virologic markers and CD4 cell count did not significantly change.
Conclusions: Hypericin caused significant phototoxicity and had no antiretroviral activity in the limited number of patients studied.