AIDS RESEARCH: Scientists Say Money Well Spent
AIDS researchers have long justified their disproportionate share of federal research dollars by pointing to "scientific advances well beyond the scope of AIDS," the Los Angeles Times reports. Years after the first researchers began their ambitious projects, a wealth of new information has sparked a "new generation of drugs that owe their development to a massive federal investment in AIDS," including the flu drug Relenza, approved in June by the FDA. Nonetheless, some critics note that while AIDS commands a $1.5 billion annual slice of the federal research budget, Alzheimer's receives $400 million annually, "even though it affects 4 million Americans, three times the number of AIDS cases." But AIDS researchers are bracing against such criticism, as their research has precipitated a "bounty of unexpected -- and unappreciated -- scientific advances" that scientists predict will shed light on "everything from cancer to the common cold," the Times reports. "AIDS brought an amazing level of scientific brain power ... that has brought benefits way beyond HIV," said Jeffrey Levi, an AIDS policy analyst at the George Washington University School of Public Health. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that AIDS research prompted the "real coming of age of immunology," particularly in research aimed at attacking viruses where they replicate. By delving into the ways in which HIV harnesses the immune system, researchers can apply the findings to "numerous fields, including virology, microbiology, neurology, genetics" and immunology. Both hepatitis C and hepatitis B are candidates for drugs that attack viral replication, and with four million infected Americans, they also promise a "huge potential market." Glaxo Wellcome Inc.'s new drug for hepatitis B, lamivudine, got its start as an AIDS treatment. The Los Angeles Times reports that in addition to developing new treatments for chronic viral infections, researchers have high hopes for applying AIDS research to "blood disorders, autoimmune disorders, genetic conditions and cancers where both viruses and the immune system are believed to play a role, such as cervical cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Kaposi's sarcoma." Fauci said, "We thought that in theory [attacking viruses where they replicate] could be done -- but few people were doing it. It was almost a cottage-type industry before AIDS. AIDS really jump-started the field" (Cimons, 8/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.