Some American AIDS sufferers are making quick visits to Japanese pharmacies to buy a drug they believe may help them overcome the deadly disease, industry sources said Friday.

The drug, dextran sulfate, has been used in Japan for 25 years to reduce cholesterol and fat in the blood and is produced by about 20 companies.A Health and Welfare Ministry spokesman said he was aware of reports of American AIDS sufferers flying to Japan to buy the drug. But he added: "There is no evidence or proof whatsoever for the efficacy of the drug to cure AIDS."

A Japanese drug firm, Ueno Pharmaceutical, has filed an application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct clinical testing on the drug for AIDS, the spokesman said.

Three pharmacies in the Tokyo area said foreigners started coming in asking for the drug late last year and a steady stream of customers is now passing through.

One pharmacist said his shop was selling the drug to about five foreign customers each month.

Drug experts say the drug could have harmful side-effects if taken to excess.

"If a hemophiliac takes it, he will not be able to stop bleeding," one said.