Cold War Triangle

How Scientists in East and West Tamed HIV

Renilde Loeckx

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Monograph - paperback

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The extraordinary story of scientists in East and West combatting HIV

A small group of scientists were doggedly working in the field of antiviral treatments when the AIDS epidemic struck. Faced with one of the grand challenges of modern biology of the twentieth century, scientists worked across the political divide of the Cold War to produce a new class of antivirals. Their molecules were developed by a Californian start-up together with teams of scientists at the Rega Institute of KU Leuven and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry (IOCB) of the Academy of Sciences in Prague. These molecules became the cornerstone of the blockbuster drugs now used to combat and prevent HIV. Cold War Triangle gives an insight into the human face of science as it recounts the extraordinary story of scientists in East and West who overcame ideological barriers and worked together for the benefit of humanity.

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A brief excursion into the history of virology and vaccines

Chapter I. Leuven: a hotbed for antiviral research
The cross-fertilization between academia and pharma
Vaccines and celebrity scientists

Chapter II. Behind the Iron Curtain
The molecular revolution goes east
The Academy of Sciences in Prague

Chapter III. Strange bedfellows: a Czech chemist and a Flemish virologist
Auspicious omens
A young prodigy’s path to science

Chapter IV. The sixties in Leuven and Prague
Antiviral penicillin
Spring turns into winter

Chapter V. Enzymes: the secret of life as chemistry
At Stanford, a new world opens up
The Rega Institute cuts corporate ties and goes its own way

Chapter VI. From interferon to nucleosides
A first encounter with nucleosides
A fateful meeting in Göttingen
Bringing compounds to life
Chapter VII. Breaking away from interferon
A molecule for all seasons
Cloning the interferon gene

Chapter VIII. The first antiviral drugs
NA TO supports a nucleosides network
Bringing antiviral therapy to the clinic

Chapter IX. Aids emerges in the shadow of the Cold War
The East German connection
The Cold War heats up
Revealing a retrovirus

Chapter X. From passivity to action
A pivotal year
A triangular collaboration is set in motion
Launching an aids laboratory in Leuven: the story of d4T

Chapter XI. First attempts to halt the epidemic
Two irons in the fire: Bristol-Myers and Janssen
Taking stock after AZT
Holý’s compound is active against HIV

Chapter XII. Finding the best therapy: the one-a-day-pill
A new start-up: Gilead Sciences
The birth of Cidofovir, Tenofovir and Adefovir

Epilogue: Of scientists and crusaders


Format: Monograph - paperback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

192 pages

b&w illustrations

ISBN: 9789462701137

Publication: September 13, 2017

Languages: English: United States

Stock item number: 117790

Renilde Loeckx is former Ambassador of Belgium.
Wenngleich sich die Autorin einer interessanten, der breiten Öffentlichkeit vermutlich unbekannten Personenkonstellation und deren pharmazeutischen Errungenschaften zuwendet, erscheint ihre Publikation aus geschichtswissenschaftlicher Sicht kritikwürdig.

Henning Tümmers, Historische Zeitschrift // BAND 313 / 2021, DOI 10.1515/hzhz-2021-1450
'Cold War Triangle' provides an insightful description about some of the most important medical discoveries in recent history. It is a story of substance, and one that sheds light on the complexity of scientific discovery in an ever-changing political environment.
David Kinkela, Diplomatic History, Volume 43, Issue 3, June 2019, Pages 592–594,


Enthusiastic Endorsement from NATO's Secretary General
“I found the book explosively fascinating. The way it takes us through the labyrinth of Cold War virus research was riveting. It was like some real-life thriller as each discovery is made and each breakthrough announced.”
Lord Robertson, Former British Defense Minister and Secretary General of NATO (1999- 2004)

The book tells a fascinating story and gives a glimpse into the making of scientific discoveries, the rush for patents in research, and collaborative work during hostile political situations. It is mostly an enjoyable read, albeit skewed towards Western protagonists, and will surely enrich our understanding of the multitude of actors involved in HIV research and global scientific production.
Dora Vargha, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. February, 2019,


Glowing remarks from a science writer
"Your book was on top of my summer reading pile and yes, it is great! It reads like a detective novel and I am amazed how much science I learned from it, having both an MD and a PhD degree in chemistry.  Also, all the familiar names, Brachet, de Duve, Van Montagu...It was a real treat to be reminded of such fascinating scientists that I had met. Like a trip back in time when I accompanied Donny on meetings all over the world. Thanks a lot for such a great work!"
Eliane Strosberg, MD, PhD in Chemistry, Author of “ART and SCIENCE“ and “The Human Figure and Jewish Culture”

Rave review from Belgium’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and  EU Trade Commissioner
“Ambassador Loeckx tells with passion and vigor the story of one of the great breakthroughs in medicine: the containment of HIV that has saved millions of lives. It’s also a great story about the very nature of humanity: how cooperation among great minds from different horizons and disciplines transcended the Wall that once divided Europe.”
Karel De Gucht served as European Commissioner for Trade from 2010 to 2014 after being European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. He was Belgium’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2004 to 2009.
Accolade from a scientist-entrepreneur
"As a scientist in the seventies I had first hand experience on the hurdles of crossing political borders in advancing human knowledge. The book captures not only this intriguing story of scientists and entrepreneurs, but also evokes the quest for a deeper understanding of microbiology."
Dr. Jos B. Peeters. CEO Capricorn Venture Partners.

High praise from a Nobel laureate
"I got to know a number of the scientists mentioned in the book and have read it with great interest. It gives an excellent account of an unfolding story of scientific, political and social interest. "
Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn. University of Strasbourg, France. Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.