Andre Scott

Chemical Structure of Azidothymidine
Azidothymidine, also known as Zidovudine or AZT, according to is “an antiretroviral medicine. It is used with other drugs for the treatment of HIV. This medicine is not a cure for HIV.” GlaxoSmithKline was the first manufacturer of the drug and it was also the first drug approved for the treatment of HIV, ( Azidothymidine was first approved in 1987. The drug also, “is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTIs), which means it blocks the reverse transcriptase enzyme,” ( Azidothymidine was never meant to serve as a cure but it instead showed scientists that HIV-1 is in fact a treatable disease. HIV was once considered a deathly disease that quickly attacked the body but the discovery of Azidothymidine made it controllable and also gave patients a greater chance of surviving with HIV.

AZT was first synthesized as a potential anti-cancer agent in 1964 with a grant provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). However, AIDS was not recognized as the disease it is today until 1981. HIV was not the known cause of AIDS until 1983-84 and by early the NCI had been conducting tests which showed AZT actually slowed down HIV-1 copying of diverse strains. Scientists at Burroughs-Wellcome, now known as GlaxoSmithKline, along with scientists from the NCI worked to create Azidothymidine, which was found to slow the copying of HIV-1, (Broder, 1985). Samuel Broder, M.D., was a member of the team of scientists who discovered and developed Retrovir, abbreviated as AZT, in 1985. AZT is supposed to be taken along with other treatment options to slow down the spread of the HIV virus.
After the development Retrovir scientists at Burroughs-Wellcome began conducting placebo-controlled randomized trials of the drug. Patients that actually received the drug had a greater survival chance than those who received the placebo. Of the 27 participants, 19 who received the placebo died while only 1 died receiving AZT, (Fischl et al., 1987). This led to the approval of the drug the Federal Drug Administration, the FDA, on March 19, 1987.
It is important AZT is not taken independently because it could produce viral drug resistance, which would make the body unreceptive to the drug. The development of AZT was critical in the creation of methods of cure for HIV/AIDS suppression. Broder and his team went on to create the highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), which showed the progress the scientists made in virus suppression.
HIV is human immunodeficiency virus which can lead to the contraction of AIDS. HIV weakens the body’s immune system and its ability to fight the organisms that cause disease. HIV can be spread numerous ways, through infected blood, from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. To date there is no cure HIV/AIDS but there have been several crucial breakthroughs that treat the disease such as AZT. Antiretroviral therapy is the main treatment of HIV/AIDS and is seen as the most effective treatment of the disease.
AZT and Sexual Communication
Most individuals who contract HIV are unaware of it because there are virtually no symptoms. The best method of prevention is celibacy but if individuals do partake in sexual activities protection should be worn at all times. Testing is the only way to know if HIV has been contracted. Communication is an important tool for those who have contracted HIV. Communication with medical professionals is also a necessity. Being open with physicians is important for effective treatment and diagnosis. Those who do not receive treatment typically lose their battle with AIDS within a year of diagnosis. AZT is the most diagnosed drug for the treatment of HIV and also the most effective when combined with other nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. Some patients have described their physicians as not being very educated when it comes to AZT. Some patients felt like their doctors treated AZT as a cure for HIV while they ignored the crippling side effects, (Siegel and Gorey, 1997).
AZT, HIV and Celebrities
Many celebrities have also contracted the HIV virus including Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr., Eric “Eazy E” Lynn Wright, and Robert Reed, actor who played the character of Mike Brady on television’s the Brady Bunch. Many celebrities contracted the disease through unprotected sex. However, Johnson has been an HIV activist since his diagnosis in 1991. Johnson is one of the millions of people who treat his HIV with AZT. When Johnson announced he was HIV positive in 1991 the estimated cost of his HIV treatment averaged about $9,637 per year, (Burkett, 1991).
AZT Side Effects
There are many side effects to AZT including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, insomnia, weakness and fatigue, bone marrow suppression, anemia and neutropenia. Neutropenia occurs when there are a low number of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. A low count of these cells can lead to infections of the skin, lungs, blood, and kidneys. AZT has to be taken with other drugs to lower the risk of these side effects, ( Certain individuals can have different, positive effects from the use of AZT. When pregnant women used AZT they lowered the risk of passing HIV to their unborn baby.
AZT Criticism and Reception
AZT was not widely accepted by all who are affected with HIV. Women were the biggest objectors to the drug saying it was more harmful than beneficial. One of the criticisms the drug faced was from women claiming it had high toxicity rates. Other criticisms came from African American women saying, “AZT is killer”, “…it eats up your bones and everything else”, (Siegel and Gorey, 1997). AZT has also been described as making the effects of HIV/AIDS even worse.
The most common of criticism of AZT was that it was not tested on minority of women. While most White men knew how their bodies would react to AZT women, especially minority women were completely unaware. These women felt like the drug was being pushed only for monetary reasons, while the effect on their bodies was being ignored. The majority of the criticism came mostly from African American women. Though the drug is shown to lessen the chance of transmission to neonatal the side effects are still considered too great a risk.
The AIDS Infonet. (2011). Zidovudine (Retrovir, AZT). Retrieved from
Broder, S. (1985). The development of antiretroviral therapy and its impact on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. National Institutes of Health, 85, 1-18
Burkett, E. (1991, November 25). HIV treatment will break almost anyone’s bank doctor ‘Johnson’s lucky he’s a millionaire. Miami Herald. Retrieved from
Fischl, M., Richman, D., Grieco, M., Gottlieb, M., Volderbing, P., Laskin, O., Leedom, J., Groopman, J., Mildvan, D., Schooley, R. (1987). The efficacy of azidothymidine (AZT) in the treatment of patients with AIDS and AIDS-related complex. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The New England Journal of Medicine, 4, 185-191
Health Care Specialists. (2011). HIV treatment. Retrieved from
Siegel, K., Gorey, E. (1997). HIV infected women: Barriers to AZT use. Social Science Medicine, 45, 15-22