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Mystery Shrouds New AIDS Drug

November 22, 1987 GMT

KINSHASA, Zaire (AP) _ Zaire television, playing a videotape of a news conference where a new treatment for AIDS was announced, said Sunday the ″suspense is lifted.″

But little information was given about the drug developed by doctors in Zaire and Egypt.

Doctors Lurhuma Zirimwabago of Kinshasa and Ahmed Shafik of Cairo said Saturday their new treatment, called MM1, had improved the condition of some AIDS victims in a 6 1/2 -month test.

Shafik called it an ″unprecedented medical triumph.″

But neither doctor would identify the drug’s contents. Lurhuma said he preferred to ″keep it to myself for the present.″

Lurhuma and other Zaire officials also declined to say what the letters MM1 represent. Rumors circulated in this Central African capital that they stand for ″Mobutu-Mubarak 1,″ a reference to presidents Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Both were thanked by the doctors at Saturday’s news conference.

Research communities in France and the United States remained silent on the report. Dr. Luc Montaigner of France’s Pasteur Institute, a top AIDS researcher, said he could not comment on the announcement without further information.

Lurhuma told reporters and diplomats attending the news conference that an AIDS remedy must be capable of destroying the virus, restoring the body’s immune system and not be toxic.

″We believe that the medicine we have named MM1 has these characteristics,″ he said.

Zaire television on Sunday showed all of the 90-minute news conference. It also carried man-on-the-street interviews praising the development of the drug to fight AIDS - acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Many African nations are sensitive to theories that the deadly disease originated on the continent. Some of those interviewed said it was remarkable that two developing countries like Egypt and Zaira had made such a discovery.

Lurhuma said 7 of 19 patients treated with MMI had died, but all 20 members of a control group of AIDS victims, not given the intramuscular injections, had died.

He said the 12 survivors, subjected to both physical examinations and extensive laboratory tests, showed ″an appreciable clinical remission of their symptoms.″

Lurhuma said more tests were being undertaken but MM1 is important now because of its apparent effectiveness and low cost.

″We have not said that we have conquered AIDS. But we note that our medication had a certain effectiveness. It is but a small stone in the fight against this scourge and we are going to continue in our work,″ he said.

The drug would cost less than $1,000 for treatment compared to more than $10,000 for other drugs being used against the disease, Lurhuma said. Individual injections would cost about $10, he added. No details on possible marketing and distribution were given.

Lurhuma, who has been working with French Dr. Daniel Zagury on a program to develop a vaccine for AIDS, said Zagury was not involved in the MM1 project.

Asked about Zagury’s work, he said only that it was ″advancing well.″

Zagury inoculated himself, another French researcher and 20 Zairian volunteers last year with an experimental vaccine to combat AIDS. He reported the inoculations to the Third International Conference on AIDS in Washington last summer.

In a telephone interview earlier, Zagury confirmed he was cooperating with Zaire on research into the use of ″killer″ white blood cells to destroy cells infected by AIDS.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is a disease in which a virus attacks the body’s immune system, leaving victims susceptible to a wide variety of infections and cancers.

AIDS is most often transmitted through sexual contact. Other means of transmission include transfusions of tainted blood or blood products, and the sharing of contaminated hypodermic needles or syringes by drug abusers.