But the British researcher who devised the treatment has been refused money by the Medical Research Council to test an improved version combining the blood- product treatment with drugs to stop the virus reproducing itself.
An international conference in London heard yesterday that the progression of the disease in people infected with HIV was significantly delayed if they received transfusions of blood plasma taken from other healthy HIV-positive donors. In contrast to anti-viral drugs such as AZT, which have serious side-effects, the blood- plasma therapy boosts patients' resistance to disease without any adverse effects.
Dr Abraham Karpas, of Cambridge University's Haematology Department, devised the treatment in 1985 when he noticed that HIV-infected people often vigorously produced antibodies against the virus as an early response to infection. He suggested that blood plasma rich in antibodies from such people could be given to Aids patients, giving them some immunity to the virus. Dr Karpas has patented the technique, known as 'passive immune therapy'.
He said yesterday: 'The US and French studies have conclusively provided evidence that it does benefit patients with Aids. Now we need to see if we can delay the onset in pre-Aids patients, and my prediction is that we can.'
Dr Karpas had hoped that the Medical Research Council would fund research combining the passive immune therapy with the use of an immunosuppressive drug known as FK506 to stop the cells infected with HIV from reproducing and providing a breeding- ground for the virus. However, his request for funding has been turned down.
Dr Gary Blick, a community physician from Connecticut, told the conference that people had come from as far as Brazil and France to get the passive immune therapy, which he had been providing at his practice. For more than half his patients with Aids-related complications, he said, the treatment appeared to be stopping the disease progressing to full- blown Aids.
Dr Blick estimated the cost of the treatment at dollars 800 to dollars 1,000 a month. Although he conceded that it was labour-intensive, he maintained: 'It is very practical.'
Dr Joshua Levy, of the HemaCare Corporation in California, said his company was awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a full- scale clinical trial involving more than 400 patients across the US at a cost of around dollars 8m. He pointed out that when AZT first became available, it had also cost around dollars 1,000 a month per patient.
If next year's trial confirms the efficacy of the treatment, Dr Levy's company hopes to commercialise it. 'It will cost dollars 30m to take this to the marketplace,' he said. 'But when a major pharmaceutical company develops a drug, they expect to spend five to ten times that.'
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