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Activists Occupy Pharmaceutical Office to Protest AZT Price

April 25, 1989 GMT

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (AP) _ Four activists were arrested today after they sealed themselves into an office at the Burroughs Wellcome Inc. headquarters to protest the price of an AIDS drug.

″We’ve been trying to deal with this company for two years,″ said Peter Staley, one of the four men led in shackles from the building 45 minutes after the takeover began.

The activists were charged with trespassing and damage to property.

The pharmaceutical company produces Retrovir, which costs patients or their insurers $8,000 to $10,000 a year, making it the most expensive drug ever marketed. Formerly known as azidothymidine, or AZT, the drug is the only U.S. government-approved medicine aimed at halting the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The four protesters, who are scheduled for a May 4 court appearance, are members of the New York-based AIDS Committee to Unleash Power, said Jay Blotcher, a spokesman for the group. He said Staley, 28, is a former Wall Street bond trader who has AIDS-related symptoms.

Staley, who said the activists were unarmed and non-violent, said they intended to maintain their takeover until their demands were met.

″We want a 25 percent reduction of the price of AZT,″ said Staley. ″We want them to subsidize the government assistance program on AZT.″

Burroughs Wellcome spokeswoman Kathy Bartlett said the protest was ″misdirected because we have been trying for three years to get AIDS therapy to people suffering the disease.″

Dan Baker, another ACT-UP spokesman, said sheriff’s deputies and Burroughs Wellcome guards broke down a non-permanent wall to get to the activists, who had chained themselves to a door. He said his group would pay for damages.

Baker claimed Burroughs Wellcome made an 80 percent profit on the drug. Ms. Bartlett said Burroughs Wellcome had never released figures on its profit and she didn’t know where the 80 percent figure came from.

Tests on AZT showed it can stop the AIDS virus from replicating, but does not cure patients. An estimated 8 percent of AIDS patients being tested died while on the drug, compared with 40 percent who died while taking a placebo during a nine-month test period.

The drug also increasingly is being prescribed for patients who test positive for the human immunodeficiency virus but have not developed any of the infections or cancers that kill AIDS patients. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control have estimated 1.5 million Americans are infected with the virus.