Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society

David Crowe, President
Phone: +1-403-289-6609
Fax: +1-403-289-6658

Kathleen Newell, Treasurer
Box 61037, Kensington Postal Outlet
Calgary, Alberta T2N 4S6
Phone: +1-403-220-0129

AZT: Life Saving or Death Dealing?

Alive magazine, December 2001

A South African court case might answer the question of whether AZT, the foremost AIDS pharmaceutical is life saving or death dealing. The lawsuit only claims damages for one man believed killed by AZT, but if successful, the precedent could send shock waves around the world.

AZT is the foundation stone of the AIDS drug construction for several reasons. It was the first drug approved (in 1987), and it is still one of the biggest sellers, although usually used in two or three drug ‘cocktails’, rather than alone. It is also the main drug used to prevent HIV transmission from mothers to their babies, and is the drug most often used instead of a placebo in clinical trials of new AIDS drugs. This lawsuit could be the trumpet call that brings the walls of AIDS Inc. tumbling down.

AZT has a well documented, deep, dark side, with numerous debilitating or fatal side effects. One of the most common advertisements in AIDS journals is for a substance that is designed to combat anemia caused by AZT, anemia so severe that without transfusions of blood or substitutes patients will die. Much of the damage to blood, bone marrow, nerves and muscle is believed to arise from effects on mitochondria, the essential energy regulating organelles inside every cell.

The lawsuit was brought against GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturers of AZT, by the wife of James Hayman, who died less than a year after starting a course of AZT. In July 1997 Hayman was prescribed one month’s supply of AZT, along with the similar drug 3TC, based on a positive HIV test and low CD4 immune cell counts. There were no visible signs of illness at this time. Immediately, he became very sick, experiencing continual diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, tiredness, anemia, muscle weakness, cramps, pain and weight loss. Because of this, he stretched his prescription of AZT and 3TC over two months, and refused to take renew it. However, even after stopping his diarrhea, vomiting, tiredness, muscle weakness and weight loss continued. He died in June 1998, having lost about one-third of his total body weight.

The lawsuit is unique, and of such great importance, because it does not claim that an unexpected side effect of AZT caused death, but that activation of the drug in the human body has been proven impossible, and that the only effect of the drug can be toxicity. The implication is that the billions of dollars worth of AZT that have been sold have only hastened the deaths of AIDS victims, exposing GlaxoSmithKline to a potentially fatal onslaught of lawsuits.

AZT is supposed to work by interfering with the most basic mechanism of life - cell division. DNA is a chain of molecular beads known as nucleotides. One of these is Thymidine, of which AZT is a defective analog, a bead that can be threaded on to the chain, but that stops further growth through the addition of natural nucleotides. This mechanism is believed to stop HIV from inserting itself into human DNA, but it also has the potential to stop normal cell division as well as replication of mitochondria.

AZT can only be incorporated into DNA after it has three phosphate molecules added to it (as is true for normal nucleotides as well), a process known as triphosphorylation. This is because it is prescribed as a nucleoside (without any phosphates) rather than a nucleotide. The phosphates must be added by natural mechanisms within the cell, a process that the drug label specifically claims does occur.

The problem is that most of the available scientific evidence shows that only a tiny fraction of AZT is ever triphosphorylated. Sixteen studies are quoted in the lawsuit that each show that only a tiny fraction (1/100th or 1/1000th) is triphosphorylated. A scientific review paper published in 1999 provided a great deal of ammunition for this argument. Not surprisingly, this research has been widely ignored by an AIDS research community dependent on funding from pharmaceutical companies, staffed by researchers determined to get rich by inventing the next new ‘AZT’.

It is rare for lawyers to be highly educated in such technical issues, but in this case Anthony Brink, the plaintiff’s counsel, had a reason to devote hundreds of hours of his personal time to the necessary research. He was a close friend of Mr. and Mrs. Hayman. He became suspicious of these drugs because of his friend’s rapid decline, and later became shocked and horrified when he discovered evidence that AZT simply cannot work. He is now determined to do what he could to ensure that AZT and related AIDS drugs are removed from the market.

If this lawsuit is successful it could destroy the entire pharmaceutical approach to AIDS. What good is a clinical trial that compared another AIDS drug against AZT, if AZT is determined to be useless and highly toxic? This could result in lawsuits not only from people who took AZT, but also from AIDS victims who were persuaded to take drugs that were ‘proven’ to work by comparison with AZT.

Success would radically change the current environment, where people diagnosed as HIV-positive or with AIDS must fight pressure from doctors and social service agencies to comply with their prescriptions. Many have discovered that avoiding exposure to chemicals (including illicit and prescription drugs), detoxification and reliance on a diet of whole, organic foods and carefully selected dietary supplements resolves many symptoms called ‘AIDS’.

Copyright © Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society, Friday, December 21, 2001.