About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Summer Hours | Main | The Leash of the Law »

July 17, 2005

And It Goes Like This

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

It's no wonder that there's still so much argument over autism and vaccines. Paranoia is an endlessly renewable resource - big glowing hunks of it are always being dug out of the ground and put to use. For an unfortunately typical example, take a look at this piece from the New York Times. Some fifteen years ago, studies were carried out in New York to determine the safety and efficacy of pediatric doses of the existing HIV medications:

The controversy extends back to a bleak period in New York City history when well over a hundred children a year were dying of AIDS, most under the age of 5. As many as one in every five children infected with H.I.V. were dead by 2, doctors now say; up to 50 percent were dead by 4.

There were no AIDS drugs approved for children in those years. The first AIDS drug, AZT, was approved for adults in 1987. Babies were being abandoned in hospitals, their mothers unable to care for them and with no foster homes available. About 40 percent of the children with H.I.V. were in foster care.

As a result, pediatricians began pressing pharmaceutical companies to let them try drugs shown to work in adults. . .

. . .One center that took part in the trials was a small boarding home for H.I.V.-infected foster children called Incarnation Children's Center, the brainchild of Dr. Stephen W. Nicholas, now director of pediatrics at Harlem Hospital Center. With as many as 24 infected children abandoned in the hospital in 1988, the idea of finding them a home outside the hospital came to him after a young patient greeted him with, "Hi, Daddy."

Working with Columbia University and the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Dr. Nicholas became the medical director of Incarnation, on Audubon Avenue in Washington Heights, which opened in 1989 and added an outpatient clinic in 1992. Foster children there and elsewhere were enrolled in trials - at first, trials of single drugs like AZT, and later, of multiple-drug cocktails and protease inhibitors, which by 1996 were helping turn AIDS into a manageable, if still chronic, disease.

For his trouble, Dr. Nicholas became the focus of attention from one Liam Scheff, who published a screed 18 months ago on Indymedia (and didn't I groan when I saw that phrase in the article) accusing the Incarnacion facility of forcing poisonous drugs down the throats of innocent children, killing who knows how many in the process, et cetera, et cetera. I should mention that Scheff doesn't think that HIV is likely to be the cause of AIDS, doesn't think that the drugs against it necessarily have done any good, and so on - just so you all know where he's coming from.

Witness now how avalanches start: That Indymedia piece set off a group called the Alliance for Human Research Protection, whose publicity got the New York Post going, which led to a BBC-financed film ("The New York Experiment - Guinea Pig Kids"), which ignited the activists at a Brooklyn-based group that seeks reparations for slavery and whose leader claims (with no apparent evidence) that many of the children didn't even have HIV:

What we know already," he said, "is that 98 percent of the children experimented on were black and Latino and that the fundamental basis of why they chose those kids was racism. They have the arrogance to say it was for their own good, but we know it was racism."

That brought a couple of city councilmen into camera range, and things have continued to deteriorate. At this point, what really happened in the late 1980s doesn't seem to matter much, but for the record:

"Pediatricians involved in the trials say they are mystified by the onslaught. While powerful drugs do have side effects, many said, they remembered no fatal reactions. At Incarnation, Dr. Nicholas said, no child had died of a reaction and "no child ever had an unexpected side effect."

He said that, with one exception, no children had been included in the trials without "absolute proof" by advanced testing methods that they were infected and not simply carrying their mother's antibodies. He said the exception was a trial that proved that by giving AZT to pregnant, infected women and then to their newborns in the first six weeks of life it was possible to sharply reduce the rate of H.I.V. transmission from mother to child. He called that study "the most important clinical trial in the history of AIDS."

Well, yeah, fine - but what about the secret experiments? Evil corporations and secretive government agencies? Racist plots and toxic drugs administered by sinister doctors? What about the good stuff? Hasn't Dr. Nicholas watched any TV, seen any hit movies? Doesn't he know how this country really works?

My heart goes out to him, actually. From all I can tell, he has done the world a real service, and saved more children than could we can count from awful, lingering deaths. For this, he and his co-workers get the Mengele/Tuskegee treatment from publicity hounds and people who've rotted their brains reading Indymedia. What a reward.

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Infectious Diseases | Press Coverage


1. SRC on July 17, 2005 11:38 PM writes...


You can't take these people seriously without inflicting damage on your psyche. If one cadre isn't on about experimenting a la Mengele on a certain favored group, another is clearing its collective throat to complain that that very same group is denied the benefits of therapy by being excluded from experimental groups (e.g., most notably and recently, women).

The remote possibility that a group was included (kids at risk of AIDS) or not included (potentially pregnant women) for perfectly valid, reasonable, and humane reasons is apparently excluded out of hand.

There is no winning with these people. They are not acting out of good faith, but to advance an invidious political agenda. They are best ignored, for the good of your soul.

Permalink to Comment

2. WBurke fan on July 18, 2005 7:07 AM writes...

Blah...blah...Blah...vitamins....evil corporations...blah...blah...

The Lord is my Shepard.... blah...blah...

Just getting you ready

Permalink to Comment

3. The Novice Chemist on July 18, 2005 10:51 AM writes...

Fan, you beat me to it. Crap. (Don't forget: Derek is a hack and I, WBurke, have a Ph.D. in macronutrients. Dr. Rath is a saint.)

Permalink to Comment

4. Rob Norton on July 18, 2005 11:07 AM writes...

These conspiracy theories are nuts. Unfortunately, papers like the Times and the NY Post help keep these stories alive. A couple years ago Pfizer was beaten to a pulp for studying its antibiotic trovafloxacin in Nigerian kids with meningitis. The press ignored the fact that many of the children benefited from the study and focused on Pfizer's alleged failure to obtain informed consent. Once again, an evil drug company and unscrupulous investigators were out experimenting on innocent kids. I guess this helps sell more papers.

Permalink to Comment

5. peeved pharmacologist on July 18, 2005 3:14 PM writes...

SIGH. I've had some experience with this sort of carry on ...
spent most of my PhD working on trans-placental drug metabolism trying to prevent "therapeutic orphanism". We used cells, subcellular fractions, placental tissue and perfused placentas ... best one can do within the ethical restraints. Placentas we didnt use were otherwise incinerated at the birthing unit.

I came in for some flak at one point due to the perceived "greater importance" of placental tissues over other tissue because it is geneticaly identical to the baby - a fundamentalist christian decided that maybe the big guy upstairs had a special right to life category for placentas ...

articles like the one discussed just make me more sad than anything else these days. These are the same people that dont immunize their kids then sue the hospital when they die of some preventable 1950's style disease. :(

Permalink to Comment

6. WBurke on July 18, 2005 6:20 PM writes...

You guys really do need to get a life. Pull your tail away from the computer (your nanny) and get out and make something of yourself. Go accomplish something worth telling someone about rather than sitting in your seat for untold hours waiting till you can take another swipe at someone of a different viewpoint. Someonoe who doesn't cower to your toothless threats and sees right through your scam-science professions of grandeur.

Derek - read "Second opinion" by Gary Null and compete with all the problems with the HIV/AIDS idea before you slam someone for not buying into the whole "ARV treatment is a must" scenario.

I'm appalled that the idea of a 4 or 5 year-old with a tube implanted into their stomach so they can be pumped full of toxic chemicals doesn't have any impact on your conscience - too much Darwinian Smack-Your-Brain-Into-Neutral I guess, I don't know.

Maybe if you had a friend or relative committed and drugs forced upon them against their will it might have an effect, I doubt it, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that there is some small shred of a conscience left in you. Who knows?

You guys actually have the delusion that you're making the world a better place when in fact your pawns in one of the sickest games ever forced upon any society in history - but then again you're on the inside looking out and all's oh so rosy from your throne rooms.

Bad news for you smack freaks (drug peddlers, same dif) - Total Chol. 185, HDL 56, Triglyc. 64 - no statins necessary because ProvexCV and Phytomega work like a charm. Too bad Big Pharma! Anyone needs to know how to beat the cardiovascular pillpushers look up those two products and save yourself some pain and a fortune.

You see people prevention is not getting tested for something and finding out you have it early - prevention is being tested for something and finding out you never had it in the first place! Thank God Melaleuca is around.

Permalink to Comment

7. daen on July 19, 2005 8:51 PM writes...

WBurke, what is it with you? Can't you see akeyboard without going for someone's throat through it? If you're an example of what you preach, then none for me, thanks.

Permalink to Comment

8. daen on July 19, 2005 8:51 PM writes...

WBurke, what is it with you? Can't you see a keyboard without going for someone's throat through it? If you're an example of what you preach, then none for me, thanks.

Permalink to Comment

9. David Christopher Rogers on July 26, 2005 6:05 PM writes...


At the risk of interrupting the sniping, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this article. You are a coherent, well-written author who I often send people to for balance when discussions about drug development and drug companies flare up. You're a good advocate for the *best* of what this field can be (and a needed reminder that not all is black when one is depressed by, say, news of how Merck marketed Vioxx...). - DCR

Permalink to Comment


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry