Researchers Thursday cited new evidence that early treatment of AIDS-infected individuals delayed progression of the disease, and that combining the anti-AIDS drug AZT with other therapies increased its effectiveness and eased side effects.
Delaying treatment for even a few months appears to deprive patients of some potential benefits of available drugs such as AZT and its experimental chemical cousins, DDI and DDC, Dr. Margaret Fischl of the University of Miami Medical Center told the Sixth International AIDS Conference here.
In Japan, a pharmaceutical company said today it has developed a drug that, in test-tube trials, has killed the AIDS virus.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University who questioned 1,200 gay men infected with the AIDS virus but not yet sick reported that up to half who were eligible to take AZT have not been taking it. Poor access to health care and concerns about AZT's harsh side effects and the social stigma of acquired immune deficiency syndrome may discourage people from pursuing AZT therapy, Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Neil Graham reported.
AZT, made by Wellcome PLC of London, remains -- three years after its initial approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration -- the sole anti-AIDS drug to be licensed worldwide.
It also is a controversial drug capable of triggering passionate arguments between medical researchers who back its use in most AIDS patients and AIDS activists who argue that too little time and money is being spent looking for superior alternative treatments.
Dr. Fischl said support for early drug intervention was provided by new data from a continuing government-sponsored study of AZT therapy in infected individuals with only the earliest signs of disease, including a depressed count of key disease-fighting white blood cells known as T-4 cells.
Its first phase, in which half the patients were given AZT and the other half a placebo or sugar pill, was called off early in August 1989 after the group taking the drug showed a significant delay in their progression to AIDS. The study then began a new phase in which all patients that had been given a placebo were switched to AZT and compared with those given AZT from the beginning.
Dr. Fischl said that nearly a year later, the group taking AZT for as long as 33 months continued to fare significantly better, progressing more slowly to serious AIDS symptoms and showing fewer toxic side effects from AZT treatment. The new data "suggest that early intervention may have greater benefit, and that the benefit may persist for a longer period of time," she said.
In Tokyo, a spokesman for the Daiichi Pharmaceutical Co. said the drug DR3355 had killed the HIV-1 virus in human white blood cells in 30 days of test-tube trials.
Daiichi will apply to the U.S. government to start clinical testing of DR3355 this year, he said. The tests will be conducted jointly with the U.S. drug firm Johnson and Johnson.
The spokesman said DR3355 had been developed as an anti-bacterial agent and was being clinically tested as a treatment for pneumonia and inflammation.
Meanwhile, an estimated 500 protesters tied up traffic near City Hall, chanting slogans and taunting police, until 50 were arrested.
The New York-based AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power organized the protest to condemn what is known as the "San Francisco model" of AIDS care. It aims to treat AIDS patients outside hospitals and with extensive use of volunteers in order to cut health-care costs. Critics say San Francisco's volunteer ranks are exhausted by nine years of the AIDS epidemic and millions of government dollars are needed to replace them with paid workers.
In another nine-year consequence, AIDS educators are alarmed by reports homosexual and bisexual men are lapsing back into sexual behavior that could kill them. Almost 20 percent of gay and bisexual men surveyed had abandoned safe-sex practices at least once, said researchers at the University of California-San Francisco.