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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

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December 2, 2010

HIV Therapies: A Thank-You

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Posted by Derek

A rare op-ed note of appreciation for the drug industry: who would have predicted, 20 years ago, that the viral disease for which we have the widest range of effective therapies would be HIV?

Comments (20) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Infectious Diseases


1. You're Pfizered on December 2, 2010 10:05 AM writes...

Nice article, but the disclaimer at the bottom takes away a bit of the warm-and-fuzzy since he was a long time member of the industry....

"Josh Bloom worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than two decades"

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2. johnnboy on December 2, 2010 11:06 AM writes...

Might be more meaningful if it hadn't been written by a shill for a lobby group (not to mention somewhere else than the NY Post).

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3. Curt F. on December 2, 2010 11:13 AM writes...

How does where Mr. Bloom worked affect whether his essay is "meaningful"?

I personally think that the meaning of his words depends on, well, his words, and not on his past or present professional affiliations.

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4. Kay on December 2, 2010 11:45 AM writes...

I worked with the author of this piece back when we were both working for pharma - he was a bench chemist for many years before he changed careers. As Curt said, his background doesn't affect what he said, but it does come from a chemist's perspective.

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5. Mad Scientist on December 2, 2010 1:00 PM writes...

I also knew Josh during my Lederle/Pearl River days. Considering the fact that Pfizer-Wyeth probably jettisoned him, along with everyone else down there, you can't accuse him of being a shill.

Smart guy.....he wrote a very good & relevant article.

I recently read the Randy Shilts book "And the Band Played On", which describes the early days of the AIDS crisis, including the desperate quest to determine the cause, the politics and irresponsible attempts to withhold research funding, the bigotry from the Christian right and, of course, the pain and suffering of AIDS patients. Things could have turned out far worse if it weren't for the dedicated efforts of the CDC, Pasteur Institute, and NCI.

While I have my own misgivings about today's MBA-run pharma industry, it is amazing how since 1980 academic science & pharma were able to identify, trace and develop anti-viral therapies for this frightening disease.

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6. PharmaBooster on December 2, 2010 1:38 PM writes...

It was a nice article in contrast to the pretty much incessant negativity in the press.

The sad thing is that talented researchers like Josh are no longer in the lab working on those big problems. Nevertheless he is obviously still active and likely to continue to be very productive in other venues. Thus is the choice facing so many of us as we watch our life work disappear - will we fade away quietly or move into new venues with the same vigor?

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7. BoredChemist on December 2, 2010 2:12 PM writes...

Too bad most of the advances in HIV therapies will be enjoyed by those in the First World rather than the Third Worlders who really need it. AIDS has wrecked most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

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8. john on December 2, 2010 2:44 PM writes...

Well the point I was trying to make is that seeing a positive piece on pharma is a little less 'feelgood' when it's from someone who wrote
it because it's his job to do so (as I can glean from their website, the ACHS that he works for also publishes articles extolling the virtues of DDT). But it seems that we're all so starved for any positive feedback that we'll take just about anything that comes.

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9. John Thacker on December 2, 2010 3:49 PM writes...

Despite all the cries about irresponsible attempts to withhold research funding and ignoring pain and suffering, I believe that the record shows that AIDS advocates have been enormously successful in the amount of federal funding secured both for research and for care and other assistance, measured by many such metrics as funding per death, etc.

There are certainly reasons why it gets more-- affecting the young, so each death costs more years of life, it's infectious, which thus warrants more of a public health role, etc. But the idea that it's been starved for funding isn't supported by NIH funding stats.

Luckily we've gotten a lot for that.

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10. anon on December 2, 2010 4:18 PM writes...

"Too bad most of ......EVERYTHING....... enjoyed by those in the First World rather than the Third Worlders who really need it. .......EVERYTHING..... has wrecked most of Sub-Saharan Africa."

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11. Anonymous on December 2, 2010 5:01 PM writes...

Too bad we lost our jobs curing aids.

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12. luysii on December 2, 2010 6:21 PM writes...

You young'un's simply have no idea how frightening and horrible AIDS was at its inception. Particularly during the time when we didn't know what was causing it. Even afterwards docs and nurses were very frightened of people with AIDS. Some, to their shame, refused to treat them.

Now that we know how hard you have to work to catch it, the fear seems misplaced. However one of the early (gallows humor) jokes concerned the hospital diet for AIDS patients. It's quite special:

Pizza and pancakes

Why? Because you could slide it under the door.

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13. befuddled on December 2, 2010 8:15 PM writes...

@11, Anon,

It is certainly tragic that so many researchers have lost their jobs, and ironic that many of them lost them because their companies were acquired because of their success.

But nobody has yet cured AIDS, and it may be that no one ever will.

(Here's hoping that I'm wrong...)

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14. Anonymous on December 2, 2010 8:31 PM writes...

It was a play on @ 10

"too bad we lost our jobs developing highly effective treatments for AIDS".

Some us were working on a (potential) cure.

This is pointless and most certainty a swan song, but our success was meant to fuel further discovery and advance medicine and human health.

It should be a testament to what can happen when both funding and science is "FOCUSED" and driven to goal.

This could be most certainty applied to many realistic endeavors such as improved solar technology.

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15. befuddled on December 2, 2010 8:43 PM writes...

Its a worthwhile essay overall, but it does contain some howlers:

"Drug companies are often portrayed as "evil" or "greedy," but they actually make very little money on AIDS drugs, as do the scientists who work for them."

Drug companies *don't* make much money on AIDS drugs? Better sell your Gilead stock now!

"Although universities and government made significant contributions, the campaign against HIV was waged primarily by the pharmaceutical industry -- the only one with the knowledge and resources to develop new drugs."

You could say that development of the drugs was done mainly by pharma, but how can you really compare drug development to discovery of the virus, or the determination of the structure of its components (done mainly by academic/government researchers). It's an apples to oranges issue, and the above sentence should have been omitted.

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16. Anonymous on December 4, 2010 11:34 PM writes...

@12 I worked in a number of NY hospitals in the late 70's and early 80's when young men started showing up really sick with a very rare pneumonia, and no one knew why. And then they just died. In days. It was terrifying. Especially when women and children also started appearing with this condition. Understanding of the disease was crucial, but execution of rapid drug development was also critical to making a real difference to those affected with AIDS. Never once did I see a nurse or doctor refuse to take care of an AIDS patient. Most of us were rather compassionate, especially once the diagnosis was made, as we all knew it was a death sentence, in those days.

The use of cimetidine was another dramatic example of pharma's enormous, and under-appreciated impact on a disease: ulcers. I remember holding a patient as he vomited blood in waves. The only treatment was Maalox - which was useless for mid- or late-stage disease. Again, the prognosis was not good - until cimetidine. How many die from a stomach ulcer today? A once common ailment is now almost unheard of with the advent of Nexxium.

Asthma is another great story. I watched helplessly while asthmatics strangled to death. In the bad old days all I had to give them was aminophylline. Now there is an entire arsenal of effective drugs.

These are only three examples. They are triumphs of science, performed in both academia and pharma. It was my own direct involvement with those afflicted, at the beginnings of AIDS, and at the end of the stomach ulcer, that drove me to change careers and go back to school for a PhD in chemistry. I decided to combat disease from the other side.

Big Pharma has been exceedingly negligent in allowing these triumphs, and others, to be taken for granted by the public. We need genuine, believable spokespersons to engage the public. Remind the public, and the governments, that these advances are not easy, nor are they cheap. That Mother Nature is cruel, and these life-saving medications and vaccines are the only way to control and eradicate disease.

I, for one, am happy to pay for my medicines. Provided I can keep my job. You can keep the bad old days.

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17. luysii on December 5, 2010 5:18 PM writes...

@16 I also worked in NY hospitals in the late 80s and did see this behavior. Fortunately it was rare (it seemed to be more common in dentists). But even so, few attempted mouth to mouth resuscitation on an AIDS patient in cardiac arrest.

An older doc I worked with in the 70s and early 80s was particularly contemptuous of this behavior as he had contracted TB from working with known TB patients. He said that this sort of risk was part of the deal people signed up for when they went into medicine.

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18. Jonadab the Unsightly One on December 13, 2010 9:41 AM writes...

> AIDS advocates have been enormously successful
> in the amount of federal funding secured

Indeed. I'm not aware of any other viral disease that has received the level of funding that AIDS has received. Frankly, there are only a handful of diseases of any kind that have received as much attention as AIDS. Cancer, diabetes, things like that are the biggies, but AIDS is in the next tier down, as far as amount of funding and effort is concerned.

Granted, a lot of viral infections don't *need* a lot of funding, because the human immune system tends to be pretty good at shutting them down in a week or so. With AIDS the immune system needs a little more help. Still, it is unsurprising to me that there are more therapies for AIDS than for most other viral diseases. More effort has been put into finding them.

Also, the infectiousness of AIDS is somewhat overplayed, IMO. You can't exactly catch it by sitting across the aisle from somebody on a bus, like you can with a lot of things, and experts consistently claim you can't catch it by being bitten by an insect (although I find the official line of reasoning for that shaky). There are, what, two documented cases of people catching it by going to the dentist? Almost everyone who has it got it from *intimate* contact with another infected person. With that kind of contact, you can catch virtually any communicable thing they've got. AIDS is one of the *least* contagious communicable diseases. The only reason it hasn't died out completely is because of the long asymptomatic period. If everyone knew who was infected and who was not, the disease would be gone in one generation.

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19. ny10059 on December 15, 2010 10:27 AM writes...

What are the thoughts on Astella Pharmaceutical MYCAMINE for HIV positive patients.

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20. Mark on March 4, 2011 4:53 PM writes...

Gimme a break. Much of this research was funded by the govt. or through tax breaks. And many of the compounds were found by the NIH or universities. Then the drugcos get them and charge obscene prices, claiming over $1 billion in development costs per drug! The real figure is somewhere below $100 million. No thank you to these price-gouging assholes.

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