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Strategy to treat AIDS patients in Africa with less drug, reduced toxicity set for clinical test

PHILADELPHIA - An innovative AIDS-treatment strategy that would reduce the overall amount of drugs needed to control a patient's HIV infection by about a third has been approved for clinical testing in South Africa. The collaborative international study, led by researchers at The Wistar Institute and the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, brings together scientists and physicians from a number of institutions in both countries. Funding of approximately $3 million for the five-year project begins today and comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health.

If successful, the new strategy - a structured stop-and-start drug regimen - would permit health agencies in resource-poor countries overburdened by the AIDS epidemic to extend care to many more patients with the same quantity of drugs, thus saving lives. Individual patients on the protocol in both the developed and developing worlds would benefit from reduced exposure to the toxicities associated with HIV drugs.

That's the good news. The bad news is that funding guidelines set by the NIAID do not permit that agency, which oversees most U.S.-supported AIDS research, to cover the cost of the drugs needed to conduct any AIDS research study. So the researchers will need to find the money for the needed drugs from an alternate source. Even at the reduced prices at which drug companies are now making their HIV drugs available in South Africa and other parts of the developing world, the cost could be well over $1 million - a significant burden for a team of nonprofit scientists. (In the U.S., the same drugs would cost approximately ten times as much.) The consequence of this situation is that this promising study with important public-health implications may never happen.

"As an academic research institution, we've gone as far as we can go with the government," says Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., an associate profes
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Contact: Franklin Hoke
hoke@wistar.upenn.edu
215-898-3716
The Wistar Institute
1-Jul-2003


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