French want one front in Aids fight

January 8, 1999

Ministers want more private-public cooperation to fill 'missing link' in Aids research. Jane Marshall reports

French government ministers have berated drugs firms for their lack of action in fighting Aids and have called for more cooperation between state-funded research bodies and commercial laboratories.

Claude All gre, minister for education, research and technology, and Bernard Kouchner, health minister, were presenting policy developments at the Agence Nationale de Recherches sur le Sida (Aids). Under a new director, plans for the national agency for Aids research include a programme for developing countries and a widening of its research to cover hepatitis C.

During the presentation, Mr Kouchner deplored "the missing link" between research and the pharmaceuticals firms, which he said resulted in delays in the development of drugs, especially against Aids.

"Molecules that are potentially highly effective are left neglected," Mr Kouchner said. He hoped that mergers within the drugs industry - between Rhone-Poulenc and Hoechst, and Synthelabo and Sanofi - would lead to more private-sector participation.

Mr All gre called for more collaboration between public research bodies and industry, in line with current government policies. "The mergers taking place should reverse the present trend of inadequate commitment from industry in this field (of fighting Aids)," he said.

The ANRS was founded in 1989 to initiate, coordinate, evaluate and fund research on HIV and Aids. Areas it covers include basic research in virology, molecular and cell biology, immunology, vaccine research, clinical research and therapeutic trials, epidemiology and social and behavioural sciences. The agency also disseminates information through reports on research findings and organises meetings with representatives of people living with HIV or Aids, non-governmental organisations in the field and other relevant bodies.

Now it is preparing to expand its activities under its new director, Michel Kazatchkine, who is also head of the clinical immunology unit and human immunology research unit of Inserm, the national health and medical research institute, at the Broussais hospital in Paris.

With a budget for 1999 of 364 million euros (Pounds 245 million), 3 per cent more than in 1998, ANRS will increase its presence on sites in developing countries stricken by the disease, including setting up new research programmes in Africa and Vietnam. Ministers have also asked the agency to develop research on hepatitis C, which often accompanies HIV infection, especially among drug addicts using infected needles.

The new plans for ANRS were announced in the wake of a devastating report from UNAids that revealed that there are more than 33 million people in the world with HIV or Aids, an increase of 10 per cent over 1997, and the overwhelming majority of them are in developing countries. Although rates of infection are falling in North America and Western Europe, down to 44,000 and 30,000 new cases respectively in 1998, they are highest in sub-Saharan Africa (four million new cases) and south and Southeast Asia (1.2 million). More than six million victims worldwide are aged under 15 years.

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