Jerome P. Horwitz's drug research makes global medical history

“At the time AZT was approved in 1987 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of AIDS, the disease went from a fatal to a treatable one. The work marked a giant step forward in the fight against this disease.” Jerome P. Horwitz ’44

test tubesJerome P. Horwitz dreamed of finding an effective treatment of cancer. His science background—he earned a B.S. (Cum Laude) and M.S. in Chemistry at University of Detroit followed by a Ph.D. degree from the University of Michigan—surely qualified him for his work at the Detroit Institute for Cancer Research.

In the early 1960s, while he was looking for a way to halt the replication of cancer cells in leukemic mice, Horwitz synthesized a drug named azidothymidine or AZT.  He tested this agent in mice bearing leukemia, but it failed. By 1964, Horwitz shelved the AZT drug and looked for achievements elsewhere.

“Entrepreneurs have to have the drive to sustain. There are far more disappointments in research than causes for celebrations,” says Horwitz.
So, for the next two decades, Horwitz forged ahead with a rewarding career in cancer research until he learned of a breakthrough discovery involving the AZT that he long-ago set aside.

It was in 1985 when a group of scientists at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland reported AZT to be remarkably successful in halting the replication of the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) virus.

“AZT proved to have a profound effect on AIDS and immediately catapulted into a clinical trial,” explains Horwitz, who is retired and living in Farmington Hills, Mich. “I was gratified to learn that AZT and two additional drugs from our laboratory were among the first four agents approved by the FDA in 1994 for treatment of this terrible disease.

“I failed to receive a monetary return for this discovery, but knowing that AZT and its successors are effective in the treatment of AIDS patients is more important than anything,” says Horwitz.

Horwitz did receive fame by receiving 30 awards at both the national and state levels, ranging from scholarships in his name to medical board appointments and awards of excellence.  

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