An experimental cancer drug may help add years to the lives of many AIDS victims by treating the form of pneumonia that is their biggest killer without causing side effects, a study concludes. The medicine, called trimetrexate, is effective against an otherwise rare disease known as pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. About 80%of AIDS victims get this form of pneumonia and it is the leading cause of death among people with the incurable disease.
The new treatment does not cure AIDS or stop HIV, the virus that destroys victims' immune defenses and leaves them vulnerable to diseases such as pneumocystis. But researchers said successful treatment of pneumocystis, caused by a protozoan, could give many AIDS patients extra years of life.
Trimetrexate is one of several new treatments for pneumocystis that are being tested. All are intended to replace standard therapies for the disease, which many AIDS patients cannot tolerate because of their side effects.