Jerome Horwitz
(Jan16, 1919 to Sep 6, 2012)
Born in Detroit, MI USA
Year of Discovery: 1964
HorwitzJeromeHORWITZHorwitz Discovers the First HIV Drug - AZT

In 1964 Jerome Horwitz was trying to design a new family of drugs designed to fight cancer. Unfortunately they didn’t work and as Dr. Horwitz told interviewers, when AZT (short for azidothymidine) 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. The riches, eventually billions of dollars, went to the drug company that later tested it, patented it, and in 1986 won FDA approval for it as the first proven drug for AIDS. Unfortunately, the drug had side effects and lost effectiveness quickly. But that would only be another temporary setback for this remarkable drug.

AZT had an interesting path to becoming a lifesaving drug, with a new step forward at roughly 10 year intervals. Jerome Horwitz discovered it in 1964, but it didn't cure cancer, so it then lay dormant. Wolfram Ostertag investigated it in 1974 and noted it had antiretroviral properties and that it seemed safe, but retroviruses were not thought to exist in humans, so it then lay dormant. When AIDS arose in the 1980s it was examined amongst all available antiretroviral drugs and found to work. But…it was problematic with side effects and often a loss of effectiveness. Then finally, in 1995s it was added to a drug cocktail of two other drugs and found to work fantastically!

This drug cocktail became known as ART for antiretroviral therapy, and deaths plummeted more than 60% the first two years it was available. Due to this drug cocktail, HIV infection is no longer considered a tragic death sentence. The drug cocktail makes HIV virtually disappear in the human body, and as long as patients stay on their meds, most are expected to live into their 70s.

Dr. Horwitz used to say when asked about his discovery that he had developed, “a very interesting set of compounds that were waiting for the right disease.”  And his wife says, he never did it for the money. He went into science because he wanted to make a difference.” With a smile she added, “He also went into science because he didn’t want to go into the poultry business with his father.”  Good call! 

Written by science writer, Billy Woodward

Lives Saved:  Over 22,000,000

37,600,000 people have HIV worldwide (16% don’t know it!)
1,200,000 people in the U.S. have HIV (13% don’t know it!)
1,700,000 new global HIV infections occurred in 2019, a decrease of 30% since 2010 (progress!)
34,800 new U.S. HIV infections occurred in 2019
In the 1990s a person with HIV had to take as many as 20 pills a day - today a person takes only 1 pill (that contains multiple drugs)
In the 1980s a person with AIDS had about 18 months to live - today a person with HIV will likely live close to a normal lifespan

How to Make a Lifesaving HIV Drug
Step 1 The drug AZT was discovered by Jerome Horwitz in 1964
            AZT was discovered to be an antiretroviral drug that did not harm human cells by Wolfram Ostertag in 1974
            AZT was found to work on HIV in 1987
Step 2 The drug 3TC (lamivudine), another antiretroviral drug was discovered by Bernard Belleau’s team in the late 1980s and approved for use in 1995
Step 3 The drug SQV (saquinavir), a protease inhibitor was discovered by the Swiss drug company, Roche in 1995
Step 4 Combine them into a drug cocktail known as HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) or ART (antiretroviral therapy)
Step 5 Watch the death rate plummet by over 60% the first two years the drug cocktail is available
Step 6 No longer consider an HIV infected patient as having a terminal disease, but with a likely normal expected lifespan

Key Contributors
Luc Montagnier - Discovered the HIV Retrovirus
Francoise Barre-Sinoussi - Discovered the HIV Retrovirus
Jermoe Horwitz - Discovered the Lifesaving Drug AZT
Wolfram Ostertag - Discovered the Lifesaving Drug AZT
Bernard Belleau - Discovered the Lifesaving Drug 3TC

Links to More About the Scientist & the Science
Scientific American Remembering Dr. Jerome Hortwitz and AZT
Jerome Horwitz’s Wikipedia Page