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A synthetic compound has been shown in laboratory experiments to prevent reproduction of the AIDS virus in a way different from AZT, the only anti-viral drug now approved for use against AIDS, researchers announced Thursday.

The compound, a man-made peptide called U-81749, appears to block the final stage of a process the AIDS virus uses to reproduce itself in human cells. AZT, or zidovudine, attacks an earlier stage in the life cycle of the virus.

"It's clear in the lab that they are potent inhibitors of the virus, but it's a big step from that to making a drug," said Upjohn researcher W. Gary Tarpley, who led the team whose report is published today in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Researchers from Smith-Kline Beecham had reported similar results with another compound in the Jan. 4 issue of the British science journal Nature. "I think our work demonstrates that there is a new therapeutic opportunity against the disease -- a new target that can be exploited," Smith-Kline scientist Thomas Meek said.

Leonard Post, director of infectious disease research at Upjohn, said U-81749 "drastically slows down and reduces the number of mature viral particles you get in an infection."

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