Aids researchers seek go-ahead to test thalidomide: Drug trial planned on HIV-positive men

THALIDOMIDE, the drug responsible for causing severe malformation in thousands of babies born in the 1950s and 60s, may be given to a group of HIV-positive men to try to ward off Aids.

Doctors at St George's Hospital Medical School and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London have applied for ethical approval to begin the drugs trial which they expect to start at the end of next month.

Professor Angus Dalgleish, an Aids researcher at St George's, said he had been applying to start a trial of thalidomide as an anti-Aids drug for 'the best part of a year'.

He said 40 patients had volunteered, the drug had been bought from a company in Brazil and the EC had agreed to fund the study. 'We're just waiting for final ethical approval,' he said.

'We're hoping to start as soon as possible, possibly the end of August. I think it should be OK because we've had our submission before (the ethical panel) several times now.'

Thalidomide, which was initially sold as a sedative and is now used to treat leprosy, is believed to 'damp down' a part of the immune system that Professor Dalgleish believes is responsible for helping to bring on Aids in people infected with HIV.

Researchers at the Rockefeller University in New York reported earlier this year that they believed thalidomide could alleviate the symptoms of Aids and slow or even halt its progress.

Professor Dalgleish believes that HIV causes the body's immune system to attack its own cells, similar to other so-called 'auto-immune' diseases. However, many other scientists disagree, which has frustrated Professor Dalgleish's attempts to begin a trial of thalidomide in the UK, he said.

Another problem has been the terrible notoriety of the drug itself. 'No drug company wants to have its name associated with it. We've had to buy it from a company in Brazil that is making it for leprosy treatment.'

He said the ethical protocol of the drugs trial made it 'absolutely mandatory' for all 40 volunteers to be men because of the risk of birth defects in women.

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