Although AZT is the only drug approved to treat AIDS, it is just a temporary roadblock to the deadly disease, not a cure. That's why companies are searching for better drugs. And the effort seems to be paying off. Scientists are eagerly investigating compounds related to diazepam, or Valium. Like AZT, these drugs--but not Valium itself--incapacitate the virus' mechanism for replicating itself. They do this in a somewhat different way from AZT, suggesting that they offer additional ammunition for fighting the disease. Merck, Upjohn, Hoffmann-La Roche, Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, and Janssen Pharmaceutica in Piscataway, N. J., are all racing to test the new drugs. Janssen, in fact, has already begun clinical trials. And Hoffmann-LaRoche has just announced that it is studying a further diazepam derivative, which blocks another gene important to the reproduction of the virus. These drugs appear to work against only HIV, rather than interfering with other crucial biochemical reactions. "The findings may or may not hold up," says John J. McGowan, who coordinates AIDS drug research for the National Institutes of Health. "But there's a lot of excitement about these drugs."
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