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Jerome Horwitz dies at 93

Jerome Horwitz, the chemist who first synthesised AZT, d4T and ddC while a researcher at Wayne State University’s cancer research center in Detroit in the early 1960’s, died on 6th September, aged 93.

His obituary in the New York Times noted that when AZT failed as a potential treatment for cancer based on lack of biological activity in murine studies, it was shelved, and Horwitz told colleagues that he had developed “a very interesting set of compounds that were waiting for the right disease.”

Dr Horwitz neither patented the drug nor earned income from developing these compounds, even though as the first approved successful treatment it went on to eventually generate billions of dollars for Boroughs Wellcome (later GlaxoSmithKline). The development and patents for ddC and d4T went to Roche and Bristol Myers-Squibb, respectively.

The development of dideoxythymidines later provided the basis for treating HIV, hepatitis and herpes.

Although Burroughs Wellcome donated $100,000 to the Karmanos Cancer Institute, the research center affiliated with Wayne State, to establish a chair in his name, this “gift” was not enough to cover the cost of an endowed professorship. He said the size of the gift, given the profits earned, made him angry for a while. But he got over it, saying in a 2005 interview “If I was ever bitter, it’s long since passed”.

Source: Vitello P. New York Times. Jerome Horwitz, AZT creator, dies at 93. (20 September 2012).

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