An agent that improves survival in metastatic breast cancer patients has been launched. Herceptin (trastuzumab), a humanised monoclonal antibody, suppresses tumour growth in the 20-30 per cent of metastatic breast cancer patients who overproduce a growth factor called HER2. It binds HER2 receptors on the cancer cell surface so that production of the growth factor is blocked.

A Thai study suggests if pregnant women with HIV infection start receiving antiretroviral drugs at 28 weeks, the time their infants have to be treated to be safe can be shortened to three days. In the UK, HIV positive women are treated throughout pregnancy and labour and their infants receive drugs for six weeks after delivery. This has cut the rate of vertical transmission to less than 2 per cent. (New England Journal of Medicine, 5 October 2000, p982).

Eighteen volunteers are taking part in an anti-HIV vaccine trial at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford, sponsored by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. More than 70 HIV vaccines are being tested worldwide, but this is the first designed to combat the type of HIV-1 virus most prevalent in many parts of Africa.

An updated meta-analysis of randomised lipid-lowering trials has confirmed that drug treatment reduces the relative risk of coronary heart disease events and mortality from coronary heart disease by about 30 per cent. US researchers assessed four major trials that looked at primary prevention of CHD by treatment with lipid-lowering drugs for five to seven years (BMJ, 21 October, p983).