The recommended first-line treatment for young children infected with HIV includes the liquid formulation of the co-formulated protease inhibitors lopinavir/ritonavir (Kaletra® [Abbott Laboratories, Chicago, Illinois]). Clinical reports indicate that some children readily accept the taste of Kaletra, whereas others strongly reject it, which can deter therapeutic adherence and outcomes.
As a proof-of-concept approach, a sensory panel of genotyped adults was used to document the range of individual differences in the taste and palatability (hedonics) of the liquid formulation of Kaletra and other taste stimuli, including common excipients. Panelists rated taste sensations using generalized labeled magnitude scales to determine genotype–phenotype relationships. Several months later, the panelists were retested to assess response reliability.
Not all panelists had the same sensory experience when tasting Kaletra. Palatability ratings varied widely, from moderate like to strongest imaginable dislike, and were reliable over time. The more irritating and bitter Kaletra tasted, the more disliked by the panelist. The more they disliked the taste of Kaletra, the more they disliked the taste of its excipient ethanol and the bitter stimulus denatonium. Those who experienced less bitter and sweeter taste sensations had a different genetic signature than the other panelists. Bitterness and irritation ratings of Kaletra varied by the orphaned bitter receptor gene (TAS2R60), whereas sweetness ratings of Kaletra varied according to the cold receptor gene (TRPM8), which is activated by menthol, an excipient of Kaletra. Neither genotype related to ratings for ethanol or denatonium, however.
The use of a sensory panel holds promise as a first step in determining the nature of individual differences in the palatability of existing pediatric drug formulations and sources of variation. In this era of personalized medicine, the need is great to develop psychophysical tools to determine which drugs will show variation in acceptance by children and whether patterns of individual variation in taste as assessed by adults mirror those of young patients. ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT01841710.