Federal AIDS panel waited to release steroid results

November 14, 1990|By New York Times

A federal panel waited five months before announcing its finding that steroids can halve the death rate from the pneumonia that is the leading killer of people with AIDS.

The panel withheld the announcement until Oct. 10 apparently because members could not agree on how to word their statement. Some feared disclosure could jeopardize publication in medical journals.

Even now, many doctors say they have not been informed of it.

The disease, pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, attacks people whose immune systems are debilitated.

In the United States, about 40,000 people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome are expected to develop the pneumonia this year. From 2,000 to 12,000 eventually will die, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The expert panel -- 16 AIDS specialists and statisticians -- were convened by the institute to determine whether steroids would be effective in treating the pneumonia.

The panel reached its conclusion May 15 after reviewing five unpublished studies of the treatment, some of whose authors were among the panel's members.

The nature of the finding, and that it occurred in May, came to light in the Nov. 2 issue of AIDS Treatment News, a San Francisco-based semimonthly newsletter.

"When the lives of people are in the balance, it is totally unethical not to release information immediately," said Dr. Mathilde Krim, a founder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, a non-profit group in New York.

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