AIDS patients inspired by a drugs breakthrough fear they may never receive treatment because of its price. Concerns are being raised as doctors at Queen Elizabeth Hospital begin using the new combination therapy on a Hong Kong AIDS patient for the first time. Two more patients are in line for the treatment, which combines protease inhibitors - a new drug - and the standard AZT, DDI or DDC antiviral agents. AIDS consultant Dr Patrick Li Chung-ki said a pharmaceutical firm had agreed to supply free protease inhibitors to three patients on a compassionate basis. Protease inhibitors were hailed by scientists at the International Conference on AIDS in Canada this month. The inhibitors block the AIDS virus from storming healthy cells in the body. Doctors produced tests showing that multi-drug 'cocktails' including a protease inhibitor and an antiviral drug, such as AZT, could shrink HIV infection to undetectable levels. Three types of inhibitors have been approved in the US, where doses are expected to cost about HK$50,000 a year. Hong Kong patients now receive a mixture of three antivirals, each costing $15,000 to $20,000 a year. If a combination of two anti-virals and a protease inhibitor was used, basic costs would rise to $90,000 a year per patient. But AIDS patients also suffer near-blindness, cancers, fungal infections and other diseases, treatment for which can cause total costs to rocket. The limitations of the new drugs were costs, Dr Li said. 'The new multi-drug treatment will immediately double the medical costs for every patient every year,' he said. AIDS Concern executive administrator Bella Luk Po-chu feared some patients could have hopes dashed. A Hospital Authority spokesman said the body had no 'exact budget' for buying drugs. 'We base our decision on whether the drug is effective or needed, rather than its price,' he said.