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March 20: AZT and AIDS

Lawrence Bush
March 20, 2010

[caption id=“attachment_1218” align=“alignleft” width=“210” caption=“Rock Hudson died of AIDS in 1987”]Rock Hudson died of AIDS in 1987[/caption]
On this date in 1987, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of AZT (azidothymidine) to inhibit the development of HIV-AIDS. Originally created by Dr. Jerome Horwitz as cancer drug in 1964, AZT proved to be an unsuccessful and toxic treatment, but it 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 (now GlaxoSmithKline). Two years later, 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 widely 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, but it remains controversially unaffordable in many poor countries. In total, more than a million people have been diagnosed with AIDS in the U.S., and more than half a million have died. Worldwide, more than 25 million have died of the disease since 1981.

“We’re living through war, but where they’re living it’s peacetime, and we’re all in the same country.” —Larry Kramer

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.