Almost 35 years ago, while the nation suffered in the vicious grip of the HIV epidemic, a young man from South Carolina with AIDS named Boyd Helton found his way to the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda. While there, he was recruited into a clinical research protocol designed to lower the expression of viral proteins in his blood, and, ideally, to increase the numbers of his circulating CD4+ T-cells.

The drug treatment examined in the clinical research protocol, an inhibitor of multiple viral and mammalian DNA and RNA polymerases, had been chosen because of work performed in the lab of Eric DeClerq, a noted Belgian scientist. The principal investigator on the treatment protocol was Sam Broder, in the years before he successfully investigated AZT in patients with HIV, and later became NCI director.

The name of the drug was suramin.