A group of Baltimore physicians has formed an AIDS research consortium to improve access to clinical trials and develop new AIDS therapy for blacks, intravenous drug users and women.
Dr. David Wheeler, who has obtained a $25,000 grant from the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), said the doctors are responding to a national push to study patients who have not traditionally been included in trials and to strengthen AIDS care in Baltimore.
Wheeler, who is completing a fellowship in infectious diseases at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, soon will be joining the UM faculty.
Among metropolitan areas, Baltimore ranks 17th in the total number AIDS cases reported since the epidemic was identified in 1980. AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, destroys the victim's immune system and is fatal.
A large percentage of these patients are blacks (67 percent), intravenous drug users (39 percent) and women (19) percent.
"We have formed a partnership between physicians at the University of Maryland and other physicians, connected with clinics and community hospitals, who are interested in community-based AIDS research," said Wheeler, who is to be the principal investigator and director.
The group will be known formally as the Baltimore Community Research Initiative.
Research projects are to be designed by physicians with experience in fashioning clinical trials and carried out by other physicians in their offices or by research nurses who visit clinics or doctors' offices. The data will then be pooled and analyzed at a central office.
A scientific advisory committee, which includes Baltimore experts and experts from National Institutes of Health, will check the validity of the projects, Wheeler said. A community advisory committee, representing advocacy groups and others that are to help set research priorities, also has been formed.
In addition to local trials, the group hopes to hook into studies being run by a network of consortia funded by AmFAR in other cities, and drug company studies that need to enroll thousands of patients, Wheeler said.
"Probably, within the next six months, we'll be ready to get involved in perhaps one or two studies already under way, either within our network or from a pharmaceutical company," he said. "We would offer those studies the chance to enroll our patients and at the same time, we would learn more about clinical studies and we would also get funding to help us keep going."
One of the important spinoffs of the research, Wheeler said, is that patients may get new drugs sooner than they would otherwise.
"By participating in trials, there might be an increase of access to new therapeutic agents that would not be approved for widespread use," he said.
Equally important, the group hopes to encourage and make it easier for physicians to stay involved with AIDS patients.
"AIDS care is a very taxing and demanding field," he said. "If we can provide some science and some ability to participate in trials and new developments, and some ability to stay current, that would serve as a strong impetus to keep people interested."
Others involved in organizing the Baltimore research group are Dr. Carla Alexander, director for HIV services at the Chase-Brexton Clinic; Dr. Frank Claudi, chief of family medicine at the Maryland General Hospital; Dr. Sam Westrick, a family practice physician with a large AIDS population; and Gary Lambert, an editor of the newspaper Alternative and an adviser to the Hopkins AIDS Clinical Trial Unit.
The $25,000 AmFAR grant is for one year. AmFAR is willing to come up with additional funding for the Baltimore doctors "if we show progress down the road," Wheeler said,but they also want us to seek other funding."