Jerome Horwitz, The WSU Doc Who Accidentally Discovered HIV Treatment, Has Died
Jerome P. Horwitz, the Wayne State University scientific researcher who created AZT in 1964 in the hope that it would cure cancer but who entered the medical pantheon decades later when AZT became the first successful drug treatment for people with AIDS, died on Sept. 6 in Bloomfield Township, the New York Times reports. He was 93.
Dr. Horwitz never achieved much fame and did not earn a penny for making the AZT compound. The riches — billions of dollars eventually — went to the drug company that tested it, patented it and, in 1986, won federal approval for it as the first treatment proven to prolong AIDS patients’ lives.
Dr. Horwitz told interviewers that when AZT (short for azidothymidine) had failed as a cancer drug, he literally put it away on a shelf in disappointment and moved on to explore other ideas, never bothering to patent it.
To console himself, he half-kiddingly told colleagues at Wayne's cancer research center that AZT and several similar drugs he had developed were “a very interesting set of compounds that were waiting for the right disease.”
That set of compounds not only proved useful 22 years later in combating full-blown AIDS, it also defined a new approach to attacking disease by stealth.