Spencer Cox: Activist who helped bring an anti-Aids drug on to the market


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Spencer Cox, who died in New York of Aids-related causes on 18 December aged 44, was an Aids activist who helped form an organisation to boost treatment research and recently appeared in a documentary about an Aids coalition.

The journalist and director David France said Cox can be seen in a documentary released this year about the activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power called How to Survive a Plague.

Cox joined the ACT UP group, known for its demonstrations and sit-ins and aggressive tactics seeking more resources for Aids treatment and prevention, in 1989. He and other ACT UP members subsequently formed the Treatment Action Group, known as TAG, to focus on accelerating treatment research, in 1992.

France said Cox was “fiercely intelligent from the time he was a teenager. He wound up consulting with Nobel Prize-winners on novel approaches to attacking viruses, rebuilding immune systems and designing drug trials.”

Cox was born in Atlanta in 1968. His parents, Jerry and Beverly, were both accountants. He studied theatre and literature and had ambitions to be an actor and playwright. Soon after he arrived in New York he discovered that he was HIV-positive.

In 1995, when the antiretroviral protease inhibitors began to show potential for treating Aids, Cox devised a drug trial for one of the earliest possibilities, ritonavir. One group continued taking their usual medications and received a placebo; the other continued on their medications and received ritonavir.

The plan was beset with difficulties: no one wanted to receive the placebo, and many believed it best to approve the drug first and test it later. Cox designed a trial that allowed rapid data-gathering and a relatively quick approval process. The drug was approved in 1996.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Cox was always “very meticulous about getting good data rather than just screaming for getting something approved. It’s a great loss. He was part of an historic group of people.”