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March 19, 2018

[caption id=“attachment_69616” align=“alignleft” width=“190”] Dr. Samuel Broder[/caption]

On this date in 1987, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of AZT (azidothymidine, also known as Zidovudine or ZDV) to inhibit the development of HIV-AIDS. The approval period was the shortest in FDA history — twenty months. Originally created by Dr. Jerome Horwitz (1919–2012) as a cancer drug in 1964, AZT proved to be an unsuccessful oncological treatment, but was revived in 1985 for AIDS treatment by Dr. Samuel Broder and a team at the National Cancer Institute, working in collaboration with Burroughs-Wellcome (later GlaxoSmithKline). Broder was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1945, and lived with his family in a DP camp before immigrating to the U.S. in 1949 and moving to Detroit. In 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), founded by playwright Larry Kramer (who also co-founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis), began picketing FDA offices to demand greater expenditure and faster action on AIDS drug development and approval. By then, nearly 60,000 cases and 30,000 deaths from AIDS had been reported in the U.S., as the disease spread like wildfire in the male gay community. Today, AZT is still used in combination with anti-retroviral drugs to slow the deadly progression of AIDS and to prevent transmission of the disease from pregnant women to their babies.

“He was very upset with how ill [the first AIDS patients] were and how little there was to offer them.” —Gail Broder, describing her husband, Samuel Broder

“[ACT UP] forced the FDA to change their approval process so that new drugs — for any illness — can now be approved in one year instead of ten.” —Larry Kramer