December 27, 2006
As part of a major restructuring of its AIDS research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is cutting funding for AIDS clinical trial units across the country. The cuts will likely force 10 of the 32 units to close at the beginning of the year. Sites affected include New York City; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Honolulu; Minneapolis; Indianapolis; Dallas; Galveston, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Providence, R.I.
Currently, the 10 units provide around 3,000 patients with free HIV drugs that are in the process of being brought to market. Critics say the closings will leave these patients without needed care through clinical trials.
NIH officials contend the agency's research efforts need to be modernized. "Areas of emphasis needed to change because of the changing nature of the AIDS epidemic. These clinical trial groups began to be too individualized and did not bring other research needs into play," said Sandra Lehrman, director of therapeutics research in the Division of AIDS within the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in NIH.
Eric Lawrence, co-chair of the Network Community Advisory Board, an offshoot of the NIH-backed AIDS Clinical Trial Group, which oversees the units, noted the closings will reduce the number of people eligible for clinical trials to around 1,000. "Site closures and funding cuts will delay or halt advancement and further progress of HIV science," he said.
Georgetown University, which runs a unit in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh, was told by NIH it will receive funding for the next seven years but at a reduced level. Joseph Timpone, director of clinical research at Georgetown's infectious disease division, said patient care costs will be impacted. "We are going to have to scrutinize the type of studies we accept for clinical trials to see if they are feasible, given the funding NIH is giving out," he noted.