AN AIDS drug still under development may be administered to dying Hong Kong patients if a pharmaceutical company grants a doctor's plea to provide samples for 'compassionate use'. The anti-AIDS drug 3TC has still to be approved by drugs regulators, yet it is being supplied to a pool of patients in Australia, Europe and the United States. Queen Elizabeth Hospital AIDS specialist Dr Patrick Li Chung-ki said he would ask the manufacturer, Glaxo-Wellcome, to allow Hong Kong patients to use it. Dr Li attended the European Conference on Clinical and Treatment Aspects of HIV in Copenhagen last month, where promising results from 3TC tests were presented. Hong Kong doctors are combining the standard anti-AIDS drug AZT with newer medications known as DDI and DDC, but the cocktail is effective for only a limited period. 'The mutation of the AIDS virus means it becomes resistant to AZT,' Dr Li said. 'But when you use 3TC with AZT it seems to reverse the resistance. The virus reverts to a form which does not grow or reproduce very well. It drives the virus towards a dead end where it cannot reproduce itself.' The two drugs strike at different points in the life-cycle of the virus, slowing its ability to spread. Drug researchers who monitored patients' HIV levels found the 3TC-AZT combination appeared to suppress the virus, but had no solid evidence of increased survival rates. 'They need more data about the safety of the agents before it can be approved. Unfortunately, it will take some time; we may have to wait a year or so before anything dramatic happens,' Dr Li said. 'We will . . . see if they can make it available here.' Glaxo-Wellcome acting medical director for Hong Kong, China and Malaysia Dr Neo Boon Leong said the drug was not being tested in Asia. 'They have a programme in the United States, Europe and Australia,' he said. 'The combination of 3TC and AZT is being used for AIDS patients on compassionate grounds, but they have a ceiling on the number of patients.' Dr Neo said he was seeking instructions from the company's British headquarters on whether Hong Kong patients could be treated with 3TC.