HISTORY OF AZT
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/01/01
In FIRST: DO NO HARM! (19 December), I wrote, “The toxicity of AZT was known long before its introduction as an antiretroviral drug: it had been found too toxic to be used in cancer chemotherapy”. A knowledgeable correspondent informed me that AZT failed to qualify for cancer chemotherapy not because it was too toxic but because it wasn’t effective.
As always, I’m grateful for the comment; I do wish to be as accurate as possible, and can’t check everything that I’ve absorbed from a lot of reading, not all of which I can recall in any detail. A very positive benefit of being set straight is that when I try to learn more in order to correct errors, it sometimes leads to unsuspected new grist for the dissident mill; for instance, Sharon Stone’s assertion about AIDS deaths among women (WORLD AIDS DAY, 22 December) caused me to look at the official statistics for AIDS deaths and to discover the category of death-causing “HIV DISEASE” (28 December). Those death statistics will be featured again in later posts, for the way they vary with age is yet another illustration of the vacuity of HIV/AIDS theory.
Back to AZT and toxicity and cancer. Looking further into it, there seems to be some doubt about the matter. AIDS WIKI says this:
“AZT was originally intended to treat cancer, but failed to show efficacy and had an unacceptably high toxicity profile. (Note: There is some dispute over whether a high toxicity profile contributed to the shelving of AZT. Horwitz himself appears to have given conflicting testimony in various interviews.)”
I came across a confirmation that AZT had been found useless against leukemia in mice by Horwitz in 1964, but had shown possible promise against breast cancer (Science News, 28 June 1997, 151 #26, p. 397, citing a June 15 article in Cancer Research).
At any rate, AZT was known to be highly toxic at the time it was tried against AIDS. For a very readable account of the intrigues and machinations that led to its approval, read Bruce Nussbaum’s “Good Intentions: How Big Business and the Medical Establishment Are Corrupting the Fight Against AIDS” (1990, Atlantic Monthly Press).
Nothing about that book’s title and sub-title has become obsolete in the nearly two decades since it was written. Nussbaum is hardly a radical, and he isn’t a dissident who questions whether HIV causes AIDS. He was an investigative reporter and is now a senior editor at Business Week. His book describes “the puppet master, the brilliant Dr. David Barry, Burroughs Wellcome’s chief strategist; Dr. Tony Fauci, who grabbed control of the government’s AIDS research program only to squander $1 billion without developing a single new drug. . . . An old-boy network of powerful medical researchers dominates in every disease field . . . . They control the major committees, they run the most important trials. They are accountable to no one. despite the billions of taxpayers’ dollars that go to them every year, there is no public oversight. Medical scientists have convinced society that only they can police themselves” (from the jacket blurb).
That’s a pretty good summary of what dissidents are still up against today.
It’s not just that there’s a powerful medical establishment, it’s also that HIV/AIDS theory has tentacles reaching not only into medical practice but also into several different fields of research—epidemiology, immunology, virology. The epidemiologists have recognized that the observed rates of apparent sexual transmission of HIV are far too low to cause epidemics; but they don’t dare stand up and tell the immunologists and virologists and physicians that they are wrong, because they imagine that those people know what they are doing within their own areas of expertise. So the epidemiologists leave their observations as anomalies to be cleared up at some future time and speculate about special circumstances that might somehow make transmission more efficient—when it’s not being observed, of course. The immunologists are happy to have as an excuse for getting nowhere with vaccines, the virologists’ assertions that HIV mutates in an unprecedented fashion. Physicians can only treat their patients with what they are told to try by those whom they must trust to have carried out proper studies. There’s nothing unusual about this general state of affairs: scientists in closely related fields tend not to question what their colleagues in those other fields tell them, and apparently unexplainable anomalies are shoved aside in the belief that later on they will become explicable. That’s what Thomas Kuhn described in his much cited and little understood “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, and it fits the realities much better than Karl Popper’s suggestion that contradictory evidence at once falsifies a theory; as Imre Lakatos pointed out, the mainstream belief is continually propped up by subsidiary ad hoc hypotheses made up more or less on the spur of each bit of contradictory evidence. If science really is self-correcting, it often takes its own good time about it—like 4 decades over the laws of heredity.
At any rate, that so many different specialties are involved in HIV/AIDS underscores why I’m so grateful when others check what I write, because one can hardly say much about HIV/AIDS without touching on questions of immunology, epidemiology, virology, and more.
Just now, what I would very much like to understand is, what criteria are used in the trials of potential vaccines? I know there’s been controversy over whether “HIV antibodies” represent a successful or potentially successful reaction against a retrovirus. I’ve learned that there are several different sorts of antibodies. I’ve learned that vaccinology often makes use of “adjuvants”, which stimulate the immune system in a non-specific fashion. What I’m curious about is this: The standard way of detecting infection by HIV is via tests for antibodies; but aren’t vaccines designed to stimulate the generation of antibodies?
That’s a genuine plea for explanation, not a rhetorical question.
This entry was posted on 2008/01/01 at 11:52 am and is filed under antiretroviral drugs, vaccines. Tagged: Anthony Fauci, AZT, Bruce Nussbaum, David Barry, HIV vaccine, HIV vaccines and antibodies, interdisciplinary science, scientific specialties and HIV/AIDS, toxicity of antiretroviral drugs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.