CHICAGO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - A new treatment against the AIDS virus using a decades-old cancer drug has kept one man healthy for more than a year after he stopped taking the drugs, researchers said on Thursday.
``We were quite excited about this,'' Dr. Franco Lori, co-director of the Research Institute for Genetic and Human Therapy (RIGHT) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and Policlinico San Matteo in Pavia, Italy, told reporters at a conference in Chicago on HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
``The only three patients who have not rebounded after treatment is stopped are hydroxyurea patients,'' he said.
Hydroxyurea, sold by Bristol-Myers (BMY - news) Squibb as Hydrea, was developed as a cancer drug 35 years ago and is also used against sickle cell anemia.
Lori's team did several tests involving ``classic'' HIV drugs such as ddI, (Bristol-Myer Squibb's Videx) plus a protease inhibitor and hydrea to 24 patients. The virus seemed to disappear.
Using more sensitive tests, they found the virus in the lymph nodes of most of the patients. But a second test on 10 patients who had just become infected, and whose immune systems were thus not badly damaged, showed more dramatic effects.
In two of the patients, no detectable virus could be found in the lymph nodes, and in one there was almost no virus seen in the lymph nodes even a year after he went off the drugs.
Some patients showed a decreased white blood cell count, a team at the University of Texas reported. Hydroxyurea is known to affect bone marrow, and they said any bad effects stopped once the drug was discontinued.
Dr. Jeffrey Galpin of Shared Medical Research in Tarzana, California and colleagues at RIGHT said a 28-week study of 42 patients showed that using hydroxyurea with ddI and d4T (Bristol's Zerit) stabilized the immune system. The number of CD4 cells -- the immune cells that HIV attack -- rebounded.
In August 1997, Jorge Vila and colleagues at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Grenoble, France reported that two patients who were given ddI and hydroxyurea showed no detectable levels of virus in their blood even 12 months after they stopped taking the drugs.
A Swiss team said adding hydroxyurea to the mix might be a cost-effective way to give patients triple therapy. The drug is so old its patent has run out and it is therefore inexpensive.
Other experts are intrigued but skeptical.
``Hydroxyurea is certainly an interesting drug,'' said Dr. Charles Farthing of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles. ``But maybe they are just lucky.''
He and others said they would like to see further studies using more patients.
Even though Hydroxyurea may be potentially good news for AIDS sufferers, since it is off patent any generic drug company can produce and sell it. Thus, as we have seen with Capoten, BMS profit margins will be thin and you will not see them pushing this product. They will keep their focus on fleecing the public with big ticket items like Prava rather than promoting products that may help fulfil their "mission" of enhancing our well-being.