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April 2000

Those smug Cassandras will be choking on regurgitated crow once they catch wind of this noticia. Southeast Asia may be on the verge of its very own licensed HIV vaccine. Haul out the champagne.

According to an item appearing in the March 24, 2000 Wall Street Journal, Thai researchers plan to recommend commercial approval of Remune, Immune Response Corp.’s decade-old envelope-depleted gp120 embarrassment. Company officials note that Remune could help many HIV patients in Thailand who can’t afford the expensive combination drug therapies that are standard in wealthy nations. They add that the drug approval process in Thailand is “very informal” and expect that Remune will soon reach the market there. Because of a marketing agreement with a local Bangkok enterprise (Trinity Group), Immune Response Corp. will receive only about 10% of each Thai sale.

Remune is “too weak” to be used as a stand-alone (or, for that matter, any) therapy in the U.S., company officials explain, where there are already many effective antiviral therapies. The Thai test showed that Remune “does something” in those HIV-infected individuals who complete the complete set of immunizations. WSJ reporter Rhonda Rundle speculates that the vaccine may eventually be sold in additional countries where current HIV treatments are unaffordable or unavailable, such as Brazil and parts of Africa. (With any luck, IRC will be able to negotiate a more favorable co-marketing agreement in those impoverished nations.)

IRC stopped testing of Remune one year ago after an independent data safety monitoring board halted a pivotal trial which had enrolled 2,500 HIV-infected persons. As IRC tells it, new HIV therapies in the U.S. had reduced the rate of opportunistic infections and serologic measures of the disease to such an extent that the effectiveness of Remune simply couldn’t be measured. Who said these greedy drug companies had written off the developing world. Kudos to Agouron and Immune Response.

In the U.S., Remune is now being tested by Agouron Pharmaceuticals in an incestuous combination with nelfinavir. The trial began in September and is expected to be completed later this year.

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