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Announcement of AIDS Treatment Called Premature

October 31, 1985|HARRY NELSON | Times Medical Writer

WASHINGTON — American scientists Wednesday criticized as premature the announcement by three French physicians that they have dramatically slowed the development of AIDS in two patients by treating them with a drug that prevents transplants from being rejected.

"There's not a scientist I know who'd give something for one week to six patients and make an announcement in the press," Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., told the Associated Press. "If you want to talk about ethics, you want to make sure something works before you announce it."

Researchers from San Francisco to Boston who are studying the acquired immune deficiency syndrome made similar comments.

At the same time, however, several leading authorities suggested that there may be a valid scientific reason for trying the drug the French doctors used--cyclosporine--on AIDS patients, although at first glance it may sound paradoxical that such a drug might be effective.

The French doctors, Phillippe Even, Jean-Marie Andrieu and Alain Venet, told a Paris news conference Tuesday that two of six AIDS patients in their study had shown "dramatic" improvement after only one week on the drug cyclosporine. They said they immediately made public the results of their study, conducted at Paris' Laennec Hospital, for "ethical" reasons.

The French researchers did not claim that cyclosporine is a cure for AIDS--only that the drug caused an increase in the number of immune cells that the AIDS virus invades and destroys. It is the destruction of these cells, called T-4 cells, by the virus that leaves the patient vulnerable to a wide variety of infections and cancer, ending in the patient's death. Therefore, increasing their number would be a very desirable effect.

U.S. Scientists Surprised

Many American scientists did a double take when they first heard that cyclosporine had been reported to have that effect. When the drug is used to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ, it has an entirely opposite effect: It depletes, not increases, the number of T-4 cells.

"But Americans want to keep an open mind. There may be reasons why the drug is beneficial," Dr. Peter Fischinger, deputy director of the National Cancer Institute, said in an interview. Fischinger is a coordinator of the multimillion-dollar federal program to develop drugs and a vaccine to prevent and treat AIDS.

Asked whether the National Institutes of Health plans to investigate cyclosporine's usefulness for AIDS, Fischinger said he will wait to see what happens to the French patients. He said he is also troubled about the problem of obtaining proper informed consent from patients who might take part in a trial of the drug.

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