HIV/AIDS

GlaxoSmithKline = Aids Profiteer

AIDS drug patents and prices kill people with HIV

Coinciding with the opening day of the legal action against the South African government in Pretoria – bought by GalxoSmithKline and 41 other pharmaceutical companies – British protesters will picket the GSK plant in west London today, 5 March 2001, from 8-10am.

GSK is the world’s largest drug corporation. It is leading the fight to enforce patent rights and price fixing for anti-HIV drugs, by preventing the South African government from importing cheap generic versions and making them available to people with Aids.

“The outcome of this court case will affect 32 million HIV sufferers in poorer countries, who cannot afford these exorbitant-priced drug therapies”, according to Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group OutRage!, which is backing Monday’s protest.

“GSK says that under its Accelerated Access scheme it has cut the price of HIV drugs by 85 per cent. But this scheme applies only to Africa and even the reduced price of $1500 a year is too expensive for most people in Third World countries”.

“A victory for GSK and the other pharmaceutical giants will make cheap anti-HIV drugs illegal and condemn millions of people to a painful, slow death”, says Tatchell.

“GlaxoSmithKline’s multi-billion pound profits are obscene. The argument that they need these mega profits to fund research is false. GSK made a profit of $7.6 billion in 1999, but invested only $3.75 billion in research that year. Meanwhile, 2.5 million people in the developing world die needlessly of Aids every year”.

DfEE Sex Education Guidelines

The Government’s new guidelines on teaching sex education are being criticised by OutRage! as “weak and insufficiently inclusive”.

The guidance to teachers is set out in an amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill. It gives prominence to teaching about “marriage and permanent relationships”.

“The guidelines are not inclusive enough. They do not oblige schools to provide pupils with gay sex education and safer sex advice. To safeguard their well-being, gay students need specific, affirmative information about homosexuality and HIV prevention. The guidelines do not require schools to provide this information. That is a weakness”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.

“Instead of the reference to marriage, we would prefer neutral guidance stating that teaching about sex and relationships should emphasize the importance of mutual consent, respect, fulfilment and commitment.

“This formulation would cover everyone — married and unmarried, gay and straight, and those inside and outside traditional family relationships.

“OutRage! supports the principle of legally-binding guidelines to compel schools to provide open, honest, nonjudgemental information about homosexuality and gay safer sex. Without this legal requirement, most schools will continue to evade their responsibility to safeguard the emotional and physical health of lesbian and gay students. Because gay issues are viewed as a political hot potato, teachers will err on the side of caution and neglect the needs of gay pupils.

“Some teachers are themselves homophobic, whilst many others feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped to talk about homosexuality.

“To ensure impartial, effective education on gay issues, teachers need to receive specialist training on how to discuss homosexuality and gay safer sex in the classroom”, said Mr. Tatchell.

Excerpt from the Draft Guidelines
1.30 It is up to schools to make sure that the needs of all pupils are met in their programmes. Young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that it is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is clear that teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation.
1.31 Sexual orientation and what is taught in schools is an area of concern for some parents. Schools that liaise closely with parents when developing their sex and relationship education policy and programme should be able to reassure parents of the content of the programme and the context in which it will be presented.
1.32 Guidance issued by the Department (Social Inclusion: Pupil Support Circular 10/99) dealt with the unacceptability of and emotional distress and harm caused by bullying in whatever form – be it racial, as a result of a pupil’s appearance, related to sexual orientation or for any other reason.

Alan Milburn (Health Secretary) and Baroness Jay (Minister for Women and a former health minister) have formally complained to Mr. Blunkett about the requirement for teachers to promote marriage in schools; and Chris Smith (Culture Secretary) has also contacted Mr. Blunkett to raise concerns that the Government is replacing Section 28 with a clause putting a legally-binding duty on teachers to promote heterosexuality.

In Scotland Donald Gorrie MSP, Local Government Spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has rejected calls that the Scottish Executive should follow the example of Westminster. — “It is wrong for a few bishops to be involved in drafting the actual wording of a Bill with Ministers. Who have the bishops consulted? … When it comes to Section 28 it is the views of young people that we should be listening to. They are more relevant to the issue than a small group of bishops.”

OutRage! proposes amendments to the Human Rights Bill

Amendments to outlaw discrimination against gay people and people with HIV are being proposed by OutRage!

The proposed amendments are to the Human Rights Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

“If amended to include an explicit ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation, this Bill would do more for gay equality than any other single legislative reform”, said John Hunt of OutRage!.

“It would enable many different forms of homophobic discrimination to be overturned in the British courts. The gay-only offence of gross indecency, for example, would be declared illegal”, added Hunt.

OutRage! is extremely concerned that few lesbian and gay organisations seem to realise the huge potential benefits that would result from a successful amendment of the Human Rights Bill.

“We plan to get a backbench MP to table an amendment, hopefully with Government support”, said Hunt. “But most other gay groups, including Stonewall, seem to be doing very little. We would appreciate their support.”

The Human Rights Bill incorporates the European Covention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. It will enable violations of the Convention to be overturned in the British courts, without the need for lengthy and expensive appeals to the ECHR in Strasbourg.

“The European Convention does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or medical status. This means that the incorporation of the Convention into UK law may not be sufficient to protect lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV against unequal treatment.

“It all depends on how judges choose to interpret the Convention’s crucial anti-discrimination clause, Article 14. In the past, they have decided that Article 14 does not outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation”, noted John Hunt.

A copy of the Human Rights Bill amendment follows.

Proposed amendment by OutRage!

Introduction
1.-(3)
(a) Article 14 of the Convention shall be interpreted to prohibit any form of discrimination on any grounds whatsoever, including but not limited to the grounds set out in Article 14.

Explanation

  1. The European Convention of Human Rights was drafted half a century ago, when there was very little acknowledgement of the rights of the disabled, lesbians and gay men and other excluded social groups. It needs modernising. The Human Rights Bill should be amended to guarantee explicitly equal treatment and non-discrimination to everyone.
  2. The European Commission and the Court of Human Rights have often interpreted the non-discrimination provisions of Article 14 as being limited to the stated grounds when, in fact, Article 14 is meant to be read as comprehensive and all-inclusive. To remedy this misinterpretation of Article 14, the Human Rights Bill needs to make explicit Article 14’s prohibition of all forms of discrimination, including very obvious omissions such as age, disability, sexual orientation and medical condition.
  3. Age, disability and sexual orienation are straightforward. The insertion of the term medical condition is in order to prohibit discrimination against people with illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, and against people on the basis of their genetic make-up, (a likely area of serious discrimination in employment and insurance, unless it is outlawed).
  4. This amendment does not amend the European Convention of Human Rights. It amends the Human Rights Bill. Moreover, it is merely interpretive, attempting to ensure that Article 14 is interpreted in the comprehensive, all-inclusive manner that was originally intended by the drafters of the Convention.

Further Information: PETER TATCHELL, Tel. (+44)-171 403 1790

YouthSpeak is also campaigning to include a specific reference to lesbian and gay equality in the Bill, and fighting off amendments from the House of Lords which say that the churches should be excluded from legislation, in case they are forced to support gay marriage and ordain gay priests.

Merck concedes Animal Research delayed Protease Inhibitors for HIV

The pharmaceutical giant Merck has conceded that development of a potent protease inhibitor drug for the treatment of HIV was halted in 1989, after the company tested the drug on rats and dogs and they all died.

There is, however, no evidence that the drug would necessarily have had the same damaging effect on people with HIV, given the huge physiological differences between humans and other species. (Penicillin, for example, kills guinea pigs but cures people.)

Merck’s current protease inhibitor, crixivan, did not begin clinical trials until four years later, in 1993. Meanwhile, worldwide, tens of thousands of people with HIV had died.

Merck also acknowledges that animal studies were not needed in the development of protease inhibitors. The drugs were computer-designed and safety-tested using cell cultures and biochemical assays.

These admissions come in a letter from Merck’s Vice-President, Bennett M. Shapiro, published in the December 1997/January 1998 edition of the British HIV magazine, Positive Nation.

Shapiro’s letter was in response to an article in the November 1997 issue of Positive Nation by Peter Tatchell. In the article, Animal Magic is Science Fiction, Tatchell alleges that animal-based HIV research is scientifically flawed and has undermined the development of a cure and a vaccine for HIV.

In a letter in the February 1998 issue of Positive Nation, Tatchell debunks Merck’s defence of its animal research work.

Animal research delayed protease inhibitors for four years

Peter Tatchell argues that animal experimentation is undermining the fight against AIDS and jeopardising the lives of people with HIV.

The development of live-saving protease inhibitors was delayed for four years by the pharmaceutical company Merck because the drugs killed laboratory dogs and rats, according to the Washington Post Magazine, (1-May-1997). During those four years, tens of thousands of people with AIDS who would have benefited from protease inhibitors died needlessly. Many would now be alive if Merck had not engaged in animal research and made the false assumption that data gathered from other species can be applied to humans. This scandal is further evidence that animal experimentation is hindering the fight agains AIDS.

People and animals have vastly different physiologies. Scientific results gathered from animal studies cannot therefore be generalised to humans, as the following two examples illustrate. –

  • Strychnine is harmless to monkeys, but lethal to humans.
  • Penicillin kills guinea pigs, but not people.

HIV is a uniquely human disease: it doesn’t affect any other species the way it affects humans. The surest way of discovering a vaccine and a cure is by researching the interaction of HIV with the human immune system, not the immune systems of animals.

This recognition is now prompting some AIDS activists to argue that experiments with other species are holding back the development of safer, more-effective anti-HIV drugs. One of Britain’s top researchers, Prof. Robin Weiss, has expressed serious doubt that information gathered from studies of laboratory animals can help illuminate the mechanisms by which HIV sabotages the immunity of humans. Another senior AIDS doctor in Britain has described the millions of dollars spent on animal research as “almost criminally negligent” because it is diverting resources away from more promising avenues of molecular-level research with human cells and the HIV virus.

A similar view has been expressed by Dr. Albert Sabin, the inventor of the first oral polio vaccine. He was quoted in London’s Independent on Sunday newspaper as saying, “what has been demonstrated up to now in animals does not have any relevance.”

In the United States, Prof. Patricia Fultz, who was a senior scientist in the CDC’s chimpanzee AIDS research programme, admits she now has doubts that experimentation with other species can help us understand or treat HIV in humans, (as reported in Science magazine, 13-October-1995).

The director of AIDS research at Duke University, Dani Bolognesi, has had second thoughts too. Writing in the June 1994 Journal of NIH research, Bolognesi argued that animal studies do not provide a reliable indicator of how HIV affects people and how the disease can be conquered. “No animal models faithfully reproduce human immune deficiency virus-type (HIV-1) infection and disease in humans,” wrote Bolognesi. “Animals are not optimal models.”

The fact is that all the current and forthcoming anti-HIV treatments were developed as a result of human-based cellular research, which showed us how HIV locks onto and penetrates human cells, and the mechanism by which HIV produces new infectious virus particles within these human cells. None of these breakthroughs was achieved by research with other species.

Indeed, a significant human-based breakthrough in AIDS research, made in Britain in 1989, was partly funded by the animal rights charity The Dr. Hadwen Trust for Humane Research. This discovery of how HIV enters human cells might not have been achieved, according to the research team headed by Prof. Jonathan Weber at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, if they had concentrated on experiments with chimpanzees and other animals, as did many of their medical colleagues.

So far as drug toxicity is concerned, the unreliability of safety-testing HIV drugs on other species has been confirmed by a seven-year study involving 84 laboratories worldwide, coordinated by the University of Uppsala in Sweden. Known as the Multicenter Evaluation of In vitro Cytotoxicology (MEIC) study, it shows that human cells are 22% more accurate in predicting toxicity than whole live laboratory animals. This makes testing new anti-HIV drugs on animals redundant. Human cell test give faster, more-precise results.

Moreover, because humans and animals react differently to drug therapies, there is the risk that animal testing might result in dangerous or ineffective anti-HIV drugs being approved and in less than fully efficacious doses being prescribed. Let us never forget the scandals of Opren, Thalidomide, and AZT, which were declared “safe” after extensive animal research.

AIDS Research wasted on animal testing

by Peter Tatchell

As Hollywood is pressured to choose between AIDS research and animal rights, Peter Tatchell argues that animal experiments are scientifically flawed and unethical.

AIDS awareness and animal rights are the two biggest Hollywood causes célèbres. Now stars are being told they can’t be in favour of both. AIDS activists claim there will be no progress in the fight against HIV without animal testing. They are demanding that Hollywood ditches its support for animal rights.

This has led a minority of celebrities, like singer Melissa Etheridge, to abandon their endorsement of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which campaigns against vivisection.

But the choice offered by AIDS activists is a false one. It is possible to support the rights of both animals and people with AIDS. Indeed, several dissident chapters of the AIDS activist organisation, ACT UP, backed the recent March For The Animals in Washington DC, as did the London-based queer rights group, OutRage!

In a letter read out at the March by rock star Chrissie Hynde, OutRage! declared: “We do not believe that the oppression of queer people can, or should, be remedied by the oppression of other peoples or species”.

The defenders of AIDS-related vivisection respond by arguing that finding a cure for HIV is so important that it justifies inflicting pain on animals. However, if cruelty is excusable for the greater good, then surely it would be also justifiable to experiment on humans. Obviously it is not!

The truth is that vivisection –not animal rights– is undermining the fight against AIDS. It is diverting resources away from more promising avenues of investigation. If we want to know how HIV affects humans, we need to study human physiology (not that of other species).

Confirmation that research findings with animals cannot be generalised to humans (and vice versa) is well established: there has been only one case of HIV causing AIDS-like illness in chimpanzees, and SIV (the monkey immune deficiency virus) doesn’t produce AIDS in people.

Common sense says that the most likely way to discover a vaccine and cure for HIV among humans is to research the interaction of HIV with human cells and the human immune system.

Since 1992, several of the world’s top scientists –including Professors Robin Weiss, Albert Sabine and Jonathan Weber– have warned that AIDS studies using animals are unlikely to be of much relevance to the conquest of HIV in people. They complain that the millions of pounds squandered on studies with other species would have been far more usefully spent on research with humans.

All the major advances in understanding HIV have been made without the need for vivisection. One of the very important insights into the way HIV penetrates the cells of the immune system was part-funded by an animal rights group (the Dr. Hadwen Trust). Using human cell cultures, this discovery at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, was made by researcher who are critical of vivisection on scientific grounds. Head of the research team, Professor Jonathan Weber, believes that their breakthrough may not have come about if, like many other scientists, they had focused on studies with non-human species.

ernatives to the use of animals in HIV experiments –such as human cell, tissue and organ cultures– increasingly offer fast and accurate results. Computer modelling has also made a big contribution to the development of new HIV treatments.

Once the provisional safety of a new anti-AIDS drug is ascertained, Professor Weber supports carefully controlled human volunteer trials. These can involve the administration of tiny, harmIess doses and the monitoring of their effects by means of blood samples, lasers, biopsies and ultrasound probes.

These techniques are a more reIiable indicator of a drug’s safety than experiments with animals. Tests with rats and mice, for example, failed to predict some of the adverse side effects of the two main HIV treatments, AZT and ddI.

Despite AIDS activists’ berating Hollywood stars with claims that animal research is necessary to save lives, there is not a single significant breakthrough in AIDS research that can be attributed to animal experimentation. Vivisection is, in fact, a disreputable, unethical pseudo-science that is hindering our understanding of AIDS and how to defeat it.