9/19 1986 – U.S. health officials announced that AZT, though an experimental drug, would be made available to AIDS patients

Time Magazine--AIDS

AZT, also called Zidovudine (ZVD) and Retrovir, was the first approved HIV/AIDS drug. It is a reverse transcriptase inhibitor. This type of medicine stops the reproduction of DNA and reduces the amount of the virus in the blood (the viral load).

AZT samples in the museum’s collections

AZT was approved by the FDA on March 19, 1987. It was approved in record time with only one trial on humans instead of the standard three and that trial was stopped after nineteen weeks. The study was stopped because the patients on the placebo were dying faster and the need for a treatment outweighed the need for full testing.

 Pamphlet, “100 Questions and Answers: AIDS”, New York State Department of Health, July, 1991.

AZT is a controversial drug. For example, some physicians say that a patient can start taking AZT at any time. Some say the threshold is five hundred CD4 cells (T-cells) or below. Others say never take AZT. AZT is also used to reduce the transmission from mother to child during pregnancy and labor. The pro side says it reduces transmission; the con side says it may cause birth defects. Another issue is whether it makes symptoms worse. The medicine can prolong life but it might also kill healthy cells. There are stories of children dying from AZT.