Spencer Cox, an AIDS activist most recently known for appearing in one of the year’s best films, How To Survive A Plague, has passed away at age 44. Like 39 year old Josh Weston whose death we learned about yesterday, Spencer succumbed to complications related to HIV.
From 1994 to 1999, he was Director of the HIV Project for TAG, where he did his groundbreaking work in drug trials designs. He designed the drug trial adopted in part by Abbott as they were developing Norvir, the first Protease Inhibitor to head into human trials. It had an “open standard-of-care arm,” allowing people on the control arm to take any other anti-AIDS drugs their doctors prescribed, versus the arm taking any other anti-AIDS drugs plus Norvir. It was this study that showed a 50% drop in mortality in 6 months. Norvir was approved in late 1995. Though the results were positive, the proposal sharply divided the community, many of whom thought it was cruel to withhold Norvir on the control arm. Spencer defended himself in a controversial BARON’S coverstory that made him, briefly, the most-hated AIDS activist in America. Ultimately he was vindicated.
“Spencer single-handedly sped up the development and marketing of the protease inhibitors, which currently are saving 8 million lives,” says TAG executive director Mark Harrington. “He was absolutely brilliant, just off the charts brilliant.”
His HIV infection was initially responsive to the medications, but he began developing resistance around 2000. He was hospitalized in 2009 with AIDS related symptoms, but eventually returned to health. He entered Columbia Presbyterian on the 13th.”