Potent Drug 'Cocktail' Gives AIDS Patients Hope Abbott's Promising Treatment Could Lead to Cure
Carr, Amy, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Amy Carr Daily Herald Staff Writer
Editor's note: The names of the AIDS patients in this story have been changed to protect their anonymity.
A victim of AIDS, Bill's appearance had become so freakish even his own mother refused to look at him.
The 42-year-old Bloomingdale resident weighed just 128 pounds. His hair had fallen out. His body and legs were covered with bruises, brown spots, acne and moles.
His eyes were set so deeply into his gaunt face that children would run in horror at the sight of him and adults would look away in disgust.
He was taking 50 pills a day, was afraid to leave the house for fear he would not be able to find a toilet if he needed to vomit and had asked his friends and family to pray for his death.
"It wasn't living. I was pretty much ready to give up," Bill said. "I didn't care if they found a cure. I just wanted it to end."
That was just two months ago.
Today, Bill is a changed man. His weight is up to 162 pounds. He eats five times a day and never throws up. He's enjoying a social life and says he looks so much better he's even been asked on a few dates.
"I look 100 percent better," he said. "My hair is back. I don't have that wasted look anymore. The blotches are gone and the pains in my legs are gone."
Bill has found the will to live again, and he found it in a new treatment dubbed by scientists as an AIDS treatment "cocktail."
Shutting down the virus
Previously doomed to die an agonizing death, suburban AIDS patients now are finding new hope in a combination of drugs that at the very least will extend their lives and, at the very best, will virtually wipe out all signs of the deadly virus.
The cocktail typically consists of three drugs that when combined provide the best hope for an AIDS cure scientists have seen to date. Most patients use a combination of AZT, 3TC and one of three protease inhibitors now on the market.
Libertyville Township-based Abbott Laboratories dazzled everyone at the 11th International Conference on AIDS earlier this summer with the news that its protease inhibitor, Norvir, had produced dramatic results when combined with 3TC and AZT.
"What's different this year from last year or the year before is we've learned we have drugs that, when put together a certain way, can make the amount of virus in the bloodstream reach extremely low levels," said John Leonard, Abbott's vice president of pharmaceutical ventures. "People who had a million particles of the virus in a milliliter of blood now are to a point where it is undetectable."
The drug combination has been known to stop the progression of the virus in new and advanced cases and stop the immune system from breaking down. It remains unknown how well the drugs will perform over the long term, but Leonard is optimistic.
"With each passing week and month we become more and more confident that we can shut down the virus," Leonard said. "It may be possible with these regimens, patients may not succumb to their disease."
Leonard may be willing to talk about hope for a cure, but physicians and patients prefer to remain more cautious. If protease inhibitors lead to a cure, terrific, but for now most are simply happy to be feeling better.
"We're not curing the virus, we're making it dormant," said Ron Hirsch, a Lake in the Hills physician specializing in the HIV/AIDS treatment. "My goal is to keep people alive as long as I can in the hopes that a cure will be found."
Living with AIDS
For Sam, a 31-year-old Bloomingdale resident, the new treatment is the latest high in the up and down roller coaster his life has become since he tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.
In 1987, Sam was sitting on top of the world. After graduating from the University of Illinois, he landed a job at a Fortune 500 company where he was able to travel frequently. …