New study backs early use of AZT to fight AIDS

July 29, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Appearing to contradict recent studies showing that people infected with HIV gained scant benefit by taking the drug AZT early in the course of their infection, a new report concludes that the medication significantly slows the progression toward AIDS.

But scientists familiar with all the clinical trials of AZT said the data were consistent in essential ways and that the basic message remained the same: AZT is a moderately useful drug that can slow the course of AIDS in some patients for a limited period of time, and it is up to an individual patient, consulting with a doctor on the benefits and risks of the medication, to decide when -- or even whether -- to start the anti-viral therapy.

Neither AZT nor any of the related drugs like DDI or DDC can cure AIDS or block disease progression indefinitely, scientists said, and questions remain on whether the drugs prolong patients' lives.

"This is a field filled with broken dreams, and there have been a lot of very great disappointments" in discovering new treatments for AIDS, said Dr. G. Bartlett of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "But even with all that, if somebody asked me, is it better to start early or late on AZT, I'd say there are some compelling reasons to start early. This study supports that view."

Dr. Bartlett wrote an editorial accompanying the new report, which appears today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new study found that in a group of 993 patients infected with HIV who had no symptoms of AIDS and who had a count of a crucial white blood cell, the CD4 cell, above 400 cells per cubic millimeter, those given AZT for three years were only half as likely to progress toward AIDS as those given a dummy pill.

The study was conducted by Dr. David A. Cooper of St. Vincent's Hospital at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, along with a consortium of researchers in Europe and Australia.

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