New Hope for HIV/AIDS Patients

William Prusoff, MD

Since 1981, more than 25 million people have died of AIDS and today, more than 33 million people around the world – including 2.5 million children - are living with HIV/AIDS. The development of one of the most important medications to treat this deadly virus involved the efforts of Yale scientists William Prusoff and the late Tai-Shun Lin. In the 1980s they were experimenting with a cancer drug known as d4T, when they discovered that it was very effective in slowing the production of HIV. It worked by incorporating itself into HIV's DNA and shutting off the reproductive mechanism, stopping it in its tracks.

In the early 1990s, while the AIDS epidemic was in full force, a clinical trial was conducted to find out how well d4T worked in patients. The results of the trial were conclusive; Dr. Prusoff recalls his delight when he realized that what he and Dr. Lin had observed in the laboratory was working in patients. In 1992, d4T became the first drug tested under the Food and Drug Administration's parallel track policy, which gave people with life-threatening illnesses access to drugs still in clinical trials. In 1994, Bristol-Myers Squibb began marketing the drug under the brand name Zerit. Today, Zerit is available to people around the world infected with HIV, thanks to a landmark decision by Yale and Bristol-Myers Squibb to distribute it at no profit to patients in Africa, a region that has been hit hard by the virus. Thanks to the volunteers who were willing to be the first to try an experimental treatment, tens of thousands of HIV/AIDS sufferers have benefited from this novel drug.