The unexpected Senate approval of $47 million for additional AIDS drug research may provide dramatic new treatment opportunities for the 10,000 American AIDS patients by enabling all of them to participate in experimental testing programs, congressmen and other officials said Thursday.
Currently, only about 1,000 AIDS victims nationwide are enrolled in tests under way to evaluate six different drugs.
“It will change the whole complexion of the epidemic if patients know there is something they can try,” said Mathilde Krim, a New York researcher and co-chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research. " . . . With these new drugs that are being tested, there is the possibility that patients will live longer--even if it’s until there is a another drug that is more effective. It makes a fantastic difference psychologically.”
‘Satellite’ Testing Units
The money, approved by the Senate Wednesday, was part of the health and human services appropriations bill for fiscal 1987, which begins Oct. 1. The $47 million includes $7 million for five additional treatment evaluation units and $40 million to establish new “satellite” drug testing units across the country.
The provision must still be approved by a Senate-House conference. The appropriations bill then would be sent to President Reagan for his signature.
“I think the prospects there are good,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health.
‘Not Enough Spaces’
“I’ve talked to many AIDS patients who are desperate because they have heard about drugs being tested and want to be part of the test--but can’t because there aren’t enough spaces for everyone,” Waxman added.
If approved, the money will be awarded to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is supervising AIDS clinical drug trials. Patricia Randall, speaking for the agency, said it has not been decided how the programs would be organized.
Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), who introduced the measure on the Senate floor, said that, while the drugs may not cure the disease, they could possibly put the affliction “on hold.”
“If you had AIDS, and at least there was a possibility that a month, or two or three months might be given to you in terms of life while further discoveries with respect to the disease (were being made), would you not want to avail yourself of the substance?” he said.
Destroys Immune System
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, destroys the body’s immune system, leaving it powerless against certain cancers, neurological disorders and otherwise rare infections.
“We’d be delighted to have more money to fund more treatment trials,” Randall said. “We have already stated that if we had more money, we would fund more trials. Exactly how that would be arranged--the mechanisms--we can’t say at this point. We’re still getting the others organized. Of course our goal is to get as many people involved as we possibly can.”
In July, the Health and Human Services Department announced that it would add $100 million over five years to expand existing drug testing programs. The $40 million approved by the Senate this week would be for fiscal 1987 alone.
Transfer of Funds
Weicker said the money would be a one-time transfer of funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps the poor pay heating bills. However, most states will have enough money this year from oil overcharge fees to fund the heating program, he said.
Homosexual rights groups Thursday hailed the Senate action.
“It’s spectacular,” said Thomas Stoddard, exective director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. “There are thousands of people across the country who will feel great relief at this announcement. I know legions of people who have gone to Mexico and France in a desperate, often futile search for something that might help them. If the Senate prevails in conference, people with AIDS will no longer have to leave their own country to pursue paths to treatment.”