Over a span of nearly 40 years, Hitchings worked with Elion, who was
first his assistant and then his colleague in research at Burroughs
Wellcome. Together they designed a variety of new drugs that achieved
their effects by interfering with the replication or other vital functions
of specific pathogens (disease-causing agents). In the 1950s they developed
thioguanine and 6-mercaptopurine (6MP), which became important treatments
for leukemia. In 1957 their alteration of 6MP produced the compound
azathioprine, which proved useful in treating severe rheumatoid arthritis
and other autoimmune disorders and in suppressing the body's rejection
of transplanted organs. Their new drug allopurinol was an effective
treatment for gout. Other important drugs that were developed by Hitchings
and Elion include pyrimethamine, an antimalarial agent; trimethoprim,
a treatment for urinary and respiratory tract infections; and acyclovir,
the first effective treatment for viral herpes.
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