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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Row over Thai Aids 'cure'
pills
The supplement has proved controversial
Claims about successful tests of a controversial treatment for HIV have ignited a storm of protest from other researchers.

The journal HIV Clinical Trials decided to print two papers about the drug V-1 immunitor, developed in Thailand.

This is made from the blood of HIV-1 infected patients, and while it is only approved as a food supplement in Thailand, the scientists who developed it say their trials show it can help fight the infection.

They say that a trial of 40 HIV-positive patients, who took the drug for three months, showed an improvement in CD4 immune cells - which are normally killed by the virus.

Another research project, involving more than 100 patients with Aids, suggested that the treatment delayed death - although only by a matter of weeks.

Demand soars

Publicity surrounding the drug has led to long queues for the treatment.

It has been denounced by health officials in Thailand, and by other leading HIV experts.

The website www.immunitor.com has also been closed - the link now leads directly to a website for the Royal Thai Police.

Many are now angry that a journal has decided to print studies which appear to support the drug - especially as they see the studies as deeply flawed.

Paul Cawthorne, from Medecins sans Frontieres, told New Scientist magazine that while the paper suggested the average CD4 cell count improved, there was no data to show how many actual patients in the group showed an improvement.

Contribution

Caroline Sabin, from the Royal Free and University College London Medical School, criticised the other research, suggesting that people who sought out V-1 Immunitor were likely to be the kind who would try other methods to extend their lives.

The "creator" of V-1, a pharmacist called Vichai Jirathikai, has been advertising the compound for more than a year in Thailand.

At first the drugs were given away free to thousands of patients, but now patients are asked for a $20 "contribution" per month of treatment.

His colleague Aldar Bourinbaiar said that the drug contained HIV from the blood of patients which had been heat-treated to render it safe.

He told New Scientist: "There is no claim whatsoever that V-1 is a cure or being claimed as a cure.

"Obviously, if one read this ad with the background local knowledge, the association may occur in a reader's rich imagination."

The editor of HIV Clinical Trials said he did not regret publishing the research papers into V-1 - but said he would give background information on the controversy to experts asked to review future research prior to publication.

The HIV-infected population of Thailand is rising sharply - UNAids has issued warnings about the spread of the disease in Asia.

See also:

05 Jun 01 | Health
09 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
15 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
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