AIDS TREATMENT NEWS No. 057 - May 20, 1988
A new kind of AIDS clinic and treatment research center is
seeing its first patients this week in San Francisco. We
interviewed its founder, Robert E. Anderson, M.D.
ViRx Medical Group, Inc. aims to bring together patients
seeking the latest AIDS research information and access to
experimental treatments, with pharmaceutical companies which
have promising drugs to test. ViRx differs from government and
university research centers in that as a private company it has
more flexibility and hopes to move faster in conducting trials.
ViRx has also assembled top people in AIDS research, such as
Dr. Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, who will
serve as a consultant to keep ViRx informed on the most
interesting treatment developments in Europe and elsewhere.
During its current start-up phase, however, ViRx is not yet
conducting clinical trials, so patients will not have access to
experimental treatments yet. Meanwhile they can benefit from
the company's treatment expertise and its state-of-the-art
research facilities. These facilities--the laboratory and an
extensive in-house database of treatment information--are paid
for by the investor, a major venture-capital company, and not
out of patient fees, which are comparable to standard physician
and laboratory charges.
Patients may also benefit because ViRx is spending considerable
resources to inform itself of interesting treatments being
tested anywhere; it will inform persons of such options even if
ViRx itself cannot acquire them and must refer its patients
elsewhere. Another advantage for patients now is that they can
register to be informed immediately if any clinical trials for
which they qualify do begin at ViRx.
ViRx will charge customary rates for its patient consulting and
monitoring services, which should be covered by insurance. Any
additional costs for sponsored clinical trials will usually be
paid by the drug company. Later, ViRx may also sponsor its own
trials, with the pharmaceutical company providing only the
drug; then the cost of additional monitoring required might
have to be paid by the patient, since insurance companies do
not pay for experimental treatments. For nontoxic drugs, the
routine monitoring being done anyway may be sufficient, meaning
that the total additional cost to do the trial may be very
All this means that patients should usually be able to
participate in most experimental trials through ViRx at little
or no cost, beyond the cost of routine monitoring which is
recommended anyway and covered by insurance.
Patients should be aware, however, that ViRx insists that it
"is not a supermarket" for AIDS treatments. It will only use
experimental treatments as part of scientific protocols.
Therefore new treatments will seldom be available unless the
company which owns a drug wants to run trials, and uses ViRx to
Besides counseling and laboratory monitoring, ViRx would prefer
not to provide primary care, handle hospitalizations, etc. Its
clients will usually have their own physicians, and ViRx will
be cooperating rather than competing with community physicians.
But ViRx will expand patient services if its patients require
ViRx is seeking patients at all stages of HIV infection, from
asymptomatic to persons with ARC or AIDS.
The founder of ViRx, president Robert E. Anderson, M.D., has
been Chief of the AIDS Section of the California Department of
Health Services, and was the Public Health Medical Officer for
AIDS in California. He also co-founded the San Francisco Men's
Health Study. He is a specialist in laboratory testing
procedures, and has authored or coauthored over a dozen papers
or presentations on AIDS.
Other key consultants and personnel are:
* Dr. Dannie King, who was head of infectious diseases at
Burroughs-Wellcome when AZT achieved its rapid licensing.
"He knows how to make the FDA work."
* Peter Hutt, former general counsel of the FDA, and an expert
on the history of drug regulatory law. He was involved in
negotiating the treatment IND regulations.
* Gary Wilcox, a molecular biologist.
* William Lang, M.D., consultant and clinical supervisor.
* Bruce Decker, in business development.
ViRx is currently recruiting a full-time physician for both
clinical and research work.
ViRx has its own state of the art laboratory and can do T-cell
subsets and P24 antigen testing on the premises. ViRx will use
several quality-control checks not usually done in commercial
labs to assure more accurate counts.
ViRx also has a computer network throughout the facility. Every
examining room has a terminal. Patient records are coded with
numbers to protect confidentiality; all identifying information
is kept separately. The computer will also be used to monitor
results of whatever treatments patients are already using.
ViRx hopes to conduct dozens if not hundreds of drug trials.
It hopes to significantly speed FDA approval for the drugs it
studies, by more quickly providing the data required by that
agency. If it succeeds, the company could make a major
contribution to AIDS treatment development.
What does ViRx offer to patients? Eventually it will provide
access to experimental treatments which may be unavailable
elsewhere. Already it has a top-quality laboratory, as well as
an in-house database of treatment information, with staff who
are informed about treatment options and have time to discuss
them with patients.
ViRx can make an important contribution to AIDS drug
development and to patient services. But since it is seeing
patients for the first time this week, it is too early to know
how successful this company will be in attracting patients and