Government and other AIDS experts denied yesterday a newspaper report that they had withheld vital information about an AIDS treatment because they feared a public announcement would sink their chances of publishing their findings in a prestigious journal.
In fact, they declared, information that was accumulating about the value of steroid drugs for patients with pneumocystic pneumonia was coming out continuously at meetings, in newspapers and on a special physicians' television network.
"I think it is unfortunate that malicious intent is being ascribed to investigators without any basis in fact," said Dr. Samuel Bozzette of the University of California at San Diego. Dr. Bozzette and 16 other experts met in May to discuss the complex issue of steroid treatments, which hold promise for preventing respiratory failure and death in patients with the AIDS-related pneumonia.
A New York Times article that ran in The Sun yesterday contained allegations that the experts sat on the information from May until October because of a ban by the New England Journal of Medicine on prepublication discussion of research findings. The scientists submitted several papers on the findings to the journal, which are scheduled for publication later this month.
The experts on the National Institutes of Health panel said that, because the steroid treatment is a potentially dangerous one, they devoted much time to weighing the risks and benefits. They said it was for that reason, rather than from a desire to squelch the report, that a set of guidelines for steroid treatment did not go out to doctors until October.
Pneumocystic pneumonia is one of the leading killers of patients with AIDS. In recent years, some physicians have tried giving steroids, which reduce inflammation and buildup of water in the lungs, to prevent respiratory failure.
But there were deep concerns that the steroids could cause harm by energizing the AIDS virus and by further weakening AIDS patients' defenses against infections. Several clinical trials were undertaken to try to resolve these questions.
Dr. Arnold Relman, editor of the New England Journal, issued this statement yesterday: "The journal's policy, a long-standing one, is that news about AIDS is exempted from our usual embargo rule. The journal had nothing to do with the timing of the release of the information."