The pharmaceutical giant Merck has conceded that development of a potent protease inhibitor drug for the treatment of HIV was halted in 1989, after the company tested the drug on rats and dogs and they all died.
There is, however, no evidence that the drug would necessarily have had the same damaging effect on people with HIV, given the huge physiological differences between humans and other species. (Penicillin, for example, kills guinea pigs but cures people.)
Merck’s current protease inhibitor, crixivan, did not begin clinical trials until four years later, in 1993. Meanwhile, worldwide, tens of thousands of people with HIV had died.
Merck also acknowledges that animal studies were not needed in the development of protease inhibitors. The drugs were computer-designed and safety-tested using cell cultures and biochemical assays.
These admissions come in a letter from Merck’s Vice-President, Bennett M. Shapiro, published in the December 1997/January 1998 edition of the British HIV magazine, Positive Nation.
Shapiro’s letter was in response to an article in the November 1997 issue of Positive Nation by Peter Tatchell. In the article, Animal Magic is Science Fiction, Tatchell alleges that animal-based HIV research is scientifically flawed and has undermined the development of a cure and a vaccine for HIV.
In a letter in the February 1998 issue of Positive Nation, Tatchell debunks Merck’s defence of its animal research work.