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Pioneering AIDS activist Spencer Cox dies of HIV-related complications

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Spencer Cox, the the New York-based AIDS activist who was featured in the documentary “How to Survive a Plague,” died Tuesday of complications related to HIV. He was 44.

Cox, a spokesman for the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) by the age of 20, was the co-founder of TAG (Treatment Action Group), and led research on protease inhibitors which saved millions of lives.

Spencer Cox

Cox also founded the Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health, a think tank focusing on gay male emotional health.

Via ACT UP:

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.”

David France, Producer/Director of “How to Survive a Plague,” posted this interview in which Cox describes what, if any, lessons came from the plague, and from the effort it took to develop effective drugs, 15 years after HIV’s first headlines in 1981:

In his last blog for POZ, Cox said, “If I have one piece of advice for young, aspiring activists, it is to always hold on to the joy, always make it fun. If you lose that, you have lost the whole battle.”

A memorial service for Cox is scheduled for this Sunday, Dec. 23 in New York.

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14 more reader comments:

  1. RIP

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:41am
  2. aww :,(

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:43am
  3. RIP and thank u for your compassion and desire to educate the ignorant.

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:47am
  4. That is sad

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:48am
  5. GOD REST HIS SOUL

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:52am
  6. <3

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:52am
  7. RIP, and thank you to him. I would like to say I’d be interested to know what the vague “complications” is – not to be disrespectful – but to be knowledgeable. Was it HIV or treatments?

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:59am
  8. My love goes out to those who loved him and those who were just getting to know him. <3

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 12:13pm
  9. God bless him. May he rest in peace.

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 12:15pm
  10. It was HIV after fighting for so long your body just can’t take it anymore and you end up getting sick from things normal peoples immune systems can handle :( RIP to this wonderful man. His work has saved millions and can only help even more.

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 12:48pm
  11. :-(

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 1:14pm
  12. rip

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 2:07pm
  13. :(

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 3:04pm
  14. Very sad. RIP

    Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 4:06pm