Calypte Biomedical Corp. announced today that French scientistLuc Montagnier, discoverer of the human immunodeficiencyvirus, has joined its scientific advisory board and will help thecompany develop a new approach to AIDS therapeutics.

The appointment underscores Calypte's first foray intotherapeutics from its AIDS diagnostics business. Montagnier,of Institute Pasteur in Paris, will advise the Berkeley, Calif.,company in a research and development program aimed attreating early-stage HIV infection.

Calypte's premise is that current AIDS research is limited bythe one-virus, one-disease concept. Howard Urnovitz, Calypte'spresident, told BioWorld that the company's model views AIDSas a superfamily of diseases with two common denominators:HIV infection and low T cell counts.

Integral to the model is Montagnier's observation that theremay be a strong link between HIV, Mycoplasma and AIDS.Mycoplasma is the smallest known free-living organism. Unliketrue bacteria, it lacks a cell wall.

"Montagnier's general thoughts are that Mycoplasmafermentans seems to be associated with people who have AIDSversus people who have HIV but haven't progressed to AIDS,"said Urnovitz. "Rather than seeing Mycoplasma as anopportunistic infection, he sees it as an integral part of theprogression to AIDS." Exactly how Mycoplasma and HIV mightwork together to attack T cells isn't known.

Most researchers consider diseases associated with AIDS, suchas Mycoplasma, Cryptococcus, Candida and herpes, to beopportunistic infections that develop as patients' immunesystems fail under the siege of HIV. Calypte sees them as thebutton that causes an HIV infection to erupt.

Calypte believes the key to treatment is to attack HIV beforeit has progressed to AIDS, while the viral load is still low,with the goal of clearing the virus from the body. "It's simplemathematics," said Urnovitz. "If you have 1,000 infected cells,the time to get to zero is a lot shorter than if you have100,000."

"Our overall approach is that immune cells naturally die andturn over," he said. "So how do you get that infectedmacrophage to die without spreading the virus?" Calypte isworking on a therapeutic that would keep activation ofinfected cells at a minimum. "Everybody else is trying toinactivate the virus," Urnovitz said.

Calypte is also developing diagnostics to pinpoint when thevirus is active. -- Karen Bernstein

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