News briefs

Diagnostic kit will target HIV neutralizers

Hemagen Diagnostics of Columbia, MD, a maker of diagnostic test kits, says it has completed the development of a new kit to identify individuals who have an antibody that appears to neutralize the HIV virus and prevents HIV infection from progressing into full-blown AIDS.

The test will detect the antibody to an epitope, called R7V. The marker is believed to distinguish HIV progressors from non-progressors. The test is being developed in conjunction with URRMA Biopharma, a Canadian-based company. URRMA has obtained an exclusive global license from INSERM for the use of a specific antibody (anti-R7V) in a diagnostic test and for the eventual use of the antibody as a therapeutic and preventive treatment for AIDS. Hemagen has an agreement to produce the diagnostic kit exclusively for URRMA.

Pfizer offers fluconazole to some AIDS patients

New York City-based Pfizer has offered to provide fluconazole free of charge in least-developed countries for treatment of fungal infections in AIDS patients. Gro Harlem Brundtlandt, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), hails the news, noting that fluconazole is an important drug for treating fungal brain infections and esophageal candidiasis. She adds, "The private sector is showing it is willing to do its part to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I am confident that they will work with governments and international organizations in their efforts to strengthen health systems so that they are able to provide the care needed. This is a great challenge for all of us."

A proposed multibillion-dollar global fund for health will, however, concentrate on AIDS prevention rather than on the mass purchase of expensive anti-retroviral drugs, says David Nabarro, executive director at WHO.

The fund is likely to be launched later this month at a UN conference on AIDS in New York City. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, has said the fund needs $7 billion to $10 billion, but it looks likely to raise only $1 billion this year, with the United States pledging $200 million.

Nabarro estimates that 70% to 80% of the fund would be used to combat AIDS, with the remainder used for the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis and malaria.

Developing countries have expressed concern over the imposition of technocratic solutions that will prove impossible to implement. Even with offers of cheaper drugs from pharmaceutical companies, many experts say a mass AIDS treatment program with antiretrovirals still will be too expensive and difficult to administer.