Magazine article Science News

Survival Bonus for People with AIDS

Magazine article Science News

Survival Bonus for People with AIDS

Article excerpt

A viral infection that strikes many people with AIDS can spread like wildfire through the retina, leading to blindness if left unchecked. But a drug used to combat the eye infection may provide these patients with an unexpected, short-term survival bonus.

In a study of AIDS patients with cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection of the retina, people treated with the antiviral drug foscarnet lived an average of four months longer than those treated with a similar drug called ganciclovir, reserchers announced this week at a press briefing held by the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Md.

"The value of extra months of life with sight intact is immeasurable in alleviating the suffering of patients with AIDS," said Bernadine Healy, director of the National Institutes of Health, at the briefing.

In June 1989, the Food and Drug Administration approved ganciclovir to treat AIDS-related CMV retinitis; foscarnet received approval last month. While healthy people often carry CMV -- a member of the herpesvirus family -- without symptoms, the virus runs amok in people with damaged immune systems, especially those with AIDS. Approximately 20 percent of AIDS patients develop the progressive eye infection.

The recent trial, launched in March 1990 with funding from the National Eye Institute, was designed to compare the two drugs' safety and efficacy. On Oct. 7, an advisory panel of independent scientists cut the trial short after its review showed that AIDS patients taking foscarnet lived an average of 12 months after developing CMV retinitis, while those on ganciclovir survived for an average of eight months. Both drugs appeared equally effective in halting destruction of the retina, the panel found. On Oct. 17, the National Eye Institute sent a clinical alert to about 40,000 U.S. physicians, detailing the findings of the study.

Douglas A. …

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