Truly one of the most desperately tragic and infuriating sections of the book was Chapter 4, “The Pandemic Template: AIDS and AZT.” There’s really no way to relay the enormity of his malfeasance so I can do is extract excerpts and string them together to try to paint a coherent picture for you.
First, a little introduction and then I’ll follow with the excerpts. According to Kennedy, Fauci’s first position on AIDS was to collect vast sums of money for research and then get no results. He finally got nailed by Congress and had to change his tune before he lost prestige, reputation, funding and his job.
When he finally got on the ball, his research focused on getting approval for AZT, a drug that is still being administered. If you look online, you’ll still see articles talking about how the drug keeps AIDS patients alive. Like these two articles.
AZT = Zidovudine (ZDV), also known as azidothymidine (AZT). It was developed in 1964 as a leukemia drug.
FDA abandoned the toxic chemotherapy compound after it proved ineffective against cancer and breathtakingly lethal in mice. Government researchers deemed it too toxic even for short-term cancer chemotherapy. [Page 148]
But years later, when AZT was used for treating HIV patients, it began to be prescribed for a long term. Like years.
Why was AZT even developed as a drug to treat HIV? When the virus identified as HIV was isolated as the probable cause of AIDS, AZT would kill the virus in a test tube. Burroughs Wellcome, the pharmaceutical company responsible for AZT, smelled a divine opportunity and exhumed this drug from the trash pile. Though it cost pennies a dose to manufacture, they set the price for AIDS treatment at as much as $10,000 per year per patient.
Attempts to get AZT through the approval process were extremely slow. The book details this process in detail in this chapter. Here’s one of the reasons it was slow:
AZT’s horrendous toxicity hobbled researchers struggling to design protocols that would make it appear either safe or effective. [Page 149]
When AZT couldn’t seem to make it to market, an underground activity arose that enabled AIDS patients to get remedies from wherever they could. These activities were called “buyer’s clubs” and were the focus of a Matthew McConaughey movie.
Meanwhile, at the National Institutes of Health…
One of NCI’s [National Cancer Institute] top virologists, Dr. Frank Ruscetti… recalls of that era, “We could have saved millions of lives with repurposed and therapeutic drugs. But there’s no profit in it. It’s all got to be about newly-patented antivirals and their mischievous vaccines.” [Page 150]
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Years went by and hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into research and there was nothing to show for it. Former Business Week reporter Bruce Nussbaum wrote:
“…several hundred million dollars had somehow disappeared into the nation’s biomedical establishment and not one new drug had been produced.”
…AIDS activists and public health officials were wondering, “Where did all the grant money go Did NIAID keep the money? Who benefited? Certainly not the tens of thousands of people with AIDS who grew angrier and angrier with each wasted, passing day.” [Page 151]
Fauci dealt with this problem by continuing to stoke terrors of this poorly-understood contagion. The media and even the Oprah show fanned these flames with dire predictions of millions dead. (Again, sound familiar?) Those who were HIV positive were turned into fearsome lepers, and this was the subject of the Tom Hanks movie Philadelphia.
Activists began to target Fauci with demands for results. In the meantime, community doctors continued using the tools they could get their hands on to keep patients as healthy as possible.
So-called “buyer’s clubs” filled the vacuum by providing treatments that community doctors and their patients considered effective against AIDS, but the FDA refused to approve. “Dr. Fauci was a liar,” recalls Wallack [one of the scriptwriters of the Dallas Buyer’s Club], who researched Dr. Fauci intensively for her film. “He was utterly beholden to pharmaceutical companies and was hostile to any product that would complete with AZT He was the real villain of the era. He cost a lot of people their lives.” [Page 153]
Activists met with Fauci to try to get him to add four alternate drugs that were getting results to his list of clinical trials so they could be approved for treatment of AIDS, particularly for pneumonia in AIDS patients. Two of these drugs were Bactrim and pentamidine.
…a group of frustrated community doctors raised money from their own AIDS patients to collect data for a randomized trial on Bactrim. It took them two years, and their results strongly supported Bactrim’s effectiveness against pneumonia. AIDS activists lamented that two years of stalling by Fauci on aerosol pentamidine and Bactrim had cost seventeen thousand people their lives. [Page 154]
Activists then took the battle to Congress in 1988.
The April 28 hearing began with Rep. Weiss—perhaps Dr. Fauci’s most loyal sponsor—demanding that the NIAID chief explain his snail’s progress. Dr. Fauci responded by whining that he had no budget to purchase lab space, computers, desks, and office supplies, or to hire new workers.
The stunned Upper West Side congressman reminded Dr. Fauci that he had accepted $374 million from Congress for AIDS research. It seemed astonishing that those sums were insufficient to purchase clerical supplies and furniture. Oblivious that his lame excuses were only stoking his benefactor’s rage, Fauci moaned that his office items required separate budget columns not provided for in the massive congressional appropriation. In a barely controlled fury, Rep. Waxman coldly asked Dr. Fauci why he never informed his congressional mentors of this logjam. That question provoked a cavalcade of vague and dissembling bellyaching… [Page 156]
Facing public disgrace, Fauci finally made a turnabout on his foot-dragging and AZT trials were accelerated. I’ll talk more about the chicanery involved in those trials of a fatally toxic drug in my next entry.
To read Part II, click here.