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Newspaper: Hemophilia group held back on AIDS-blood link

The National Hemophilia Foundation advised the federal government in 1982 against requiring drug companies to kill viruses in blood products that might cause AIDS, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday.

The leading advocacy group for America's 20,000 hemophiliacs gave the recommendation despite its own already established belief that the products might contain the AIDS virus, the newspaper reported.

The following year, the medical director of the foundation did not press for a recall of drugs believed to be contaminated with the virus, according to the report.

An estimated 3,000 hemophiliacs have since died after being treated with such blood-clotting medicines _ protein concentrates made from the plasma of blood donors _ according to the newspaper's report.

The foundation knew as early as 1982 that the virus that causes AIDS could likely be transmitted to others by blood, but failed to sound an alert against untreated products, the newspaper reported.

In the report, it cited depositions from a 1993 class-action lawsuit filed by hemophiliacs against the foundation and four drug companies.

In December 1982, Louis Aledort, the foundation's former medical co-director, advised a Food and Drug Administration panel against forcing drug companies to kill viruses in clotting products out of concern that might drive prices higher than users could afford, the newspaper said.

In July 1983, when a drug-industry official estimated that up to 30 percent of blood-clotting products on the market might be contaminated with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, Aledort told the FDA that he believed "this is not the time for recall" of the products, the paper said.

A former executive director of the New York-based foundation, Alan Brownstein, testified in June that the foundation believed by 1982 that the then-mysterious immune-deficiency syndrome was caused by a blood-borne virus, according to the Inquirer.

Aledort and Brownstein could not be reached for comment, the newspaper said.

Quoting foundation documents, it cited what appeared to be a close relationship between the foundation and drug companies.

In October 1985, the foundation board passed a resolution that said "it would not be in the best interests of persons with hemophilia" for a class-action suit to be filed against one of the drug manufacturers, the paper reported.

A former president of the foundation wrote the following year that he considered the drug companies to be "constituents" and "family members," the paper said.

The class-action lawsuit, a consolidation of separate lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, seeks unspecified financial relief from the foundation and the drug companies _ Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Inc. of Collegeville, Pa.; Miles Inc. of Pittsburgh; Baxter Healthcare Corp. of Deerfield, Ill., and Alpha Therapeutic Corp. of Los Angeles.

The FDA refused to comment pending completion of an investigation, the newspaper said.