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Industrie pharmaceutique

Burroughs Wellcome lies about their role in the development of AZT

12 juin 2000 (New York Times)

New York Times, September 28, 1989

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Credit Government Scientists With Developing Anti-AIDS Drug

To the Editor :

The Sept. 16 letter from T.E. Haigler Jr., president of the Burroughs Wellcome Company, was astonishing in both substance and tone. Mr. Haigler asserts that azidothymidine, or AZT, was essentially discovered and developed entirely by Burroughs Wellcome with no substantive role from Government scientists and Government-supported research. This will be a surprise to the many men and women who have devoted their lives to working for the viral cancer program and developmental therapeutics program of the National Institutes of Health over the last 25 years.

We (associated with the National Cancer Institute and Duke University) make this statement as co-authors of the first publications describing AZT as a drug for treatment of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Mitsuya, et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1985, and Yarchoan, et al., The Lancet, 1986). There are few drugs now approved in this country that owe more to Government-sponsored research. In the interest of brevity, perhaps this point can be summarized most efficiently by stating what Mr. Haigler’s company did not do.

All of these were accomplished by the staff of the National Cancer Institute working with staff at Duke University. These scientists did not work for the Burroughs Wellcome Company. They were doing investigator-initiated research, which required resources and reprogramming from other important projects, in response to a public health emergency.

Indeed, one of the key obstacles to the development of AZT was that Burroughs Wellcome did not work with live AIDS virus nor wish to receive samples from AIDS patients.

In a number of specific ways, Government scientists made it possible to take a drug in the public domain with no medical use and make it a practical reality as a new therapy for AIDS. It is unlikely that any drug company could have found a better partner than the Government in developing a new product. We believe that the development of this drug in a record two years, start to finish, would have been impossible without the substantive commitment of Government scientists and Government technology. It does not serve anyone’s interests to nullify the importance of Government-sponsored research in solving problems of American public health.

HIROAKI MITSUYA, M.D.
KENT WEINHOLD
ROBERT YARCHOAN, M.D.
DANI BOLOGNESI
SAMUEL BRODER, M.D.
Bethesda, Md., Sept. 20, 1989