DATE: July 8, 1996

ACT UP SF Demands New Research Direction at AIDS Conference

Activists call for a shift to an immune-based AIDS treatment paradigm; say combination therapy harms body's natural defense mechanism against intracellular infections.

Vancouver, B.C. - Chanting "Old Promises; New Drugs; Same AIDS Scam", hundreds of angry AIDS activists led by ACT UP San Francisco marched to the opening ceremony of the XI International Conference on AIDS. Screaming protestors marched behind a banner that read "AIDS Drugs Kill. Ban Toxic AZT. Sue Glaxo!" and demanded that drug companies, AIDS organizations and conference organizers stop promoting expensive, immune suppressive therapies. Demonstrators asserted that research efforts focusing on suppressing HIV are dangerously flawed and they demanded that the AIDS research community focus on strengthening cellular immunity; the body's natural defense against the intracellular infections that kill people with immune system diseases.

ACT UP members charged that AZT and other AIDS drugs have been approved on the basis of fraudulent data from short-term clinical trials paid for and conducted by the products' manufacturers. Furthermore, they say that AZT and other antiviral drugs, including the new crop of protease inhibitors, impair the creation and functioning of important immune system cells, especially cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CD8s). Research has shown that elevated levels of CD8s is one of the most important characteristics of those who are long term survivors of AIDS.

To underscore their rage over the promotion of potentially deadly AIDS treatments at the international conference, ACT UP members demanded that Glaxo-Wellcome, a U.K.-based pharmaceutical manufacturer, immediately stop production of its antiviral drug AZT. AZT was the first anti-HIV therapy approved for use in treating AIDS. The drug is prescribed internationally to both people with AIDS and asymptomatic HIV-positives despite the growing body of scientific evidence that long term use of the chemotherapeutic agent is ineffective at halting disease progression and harmful to cellular immunity.

"We have all the hoopla about antiviral drugs, and you get any virologists aside and they'll say this is not how we're going to win," contends retrovirologist Jay Levy of the University of California, San Francisco in the latest issue of Science. To clear all the virus from the body, Levy says, "it's high time we look at the immune system."

ACT UP members cited the urgent need for AIDS researchers, when testing potential AIDS therapies, to measure clinical endpoints such as survival time and the delay in the onset of opportunistic infections rather than merely manipulating unreliable surrogate markers like peripheral blood viral load and CD4 (or T-cell) counts. They also demanded that baseline and final CD8 counts be reported in all clinical trial data.

"Look, we know that lowering blood viral load to undetectable levels does not mean that infected individuals have eliminated HIV from their bodies. They are not cured of AIDS. In fact, lowering blood viral load with immune suppressive treatments has not been associated with any clinical benefit including extension of or improvement in quality of life," warned ACT UP SF member Michael De Hart.

Continued AIDS activist Medea Lopez, "All the hype surrounding the importance of blood viral load testing is nothing but the latest marketing scheme by the pharmaceutical industry to lure frightened people with HIV into taking their unproven, expensive harmful concoctions. It's nothing but mass murder on a global scale and we are determined to stop it now!"

Instead of using blood viral load tests to encourage people with AIDS to initiate lifelong, immunosuppressive combinations of unproven therapies, activists urged researchers to immediately investigate nontoxic contact sensitizers like dinitrochlorobenze (DNCB) that strengthen cellular immunity.

DNCB is a photochemical solution that when applied topically to the skin elicits an immune response in infected patients that is believed to control HIV replication and delay the onset of opportunistic infections. Regardless of what treatment options people with AIDS utilize, ACT UP San Francisco members stated that DNCB should be the foundation of a holistic therapeutic protocol for all people with syndromes of immune dysfunction.

ACT UP SF members claimed that they are determined to utilize civil resistance to stop all clinical trials that use combinations of immunosuppressive drugs. The AIDS dissidents promised to increase their direct action efforts during the international conference to spread their message about the perils of heavily promoted antiviral drugs. Activists say they will do everything within their power to put an end to the dangerous influence of the pharmaceutical industry that is preventing the emergence of an immune-based AIDS treatment paradigm.

"It's time to derail the AIDS gravy train and bring this madness to a crashing halt," announced ACT UP member Michael Bellefountaine. "We are determined to do whatever it takes to shift the focus of AIDS research onto strengthening rather than destroying cellular immunity."

CONTACTS: David Pasquarelli in Vancouver: (604) 240-4967 Michael De Hart in Vancouver: (604) 240-4152 ACT UP SF hotline: (604) 980-4547 ext. 324