PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech scientist Antonin Holy, who played an important role in creating drugs to treat HIV and AIDS, has died at the age of 75, the Czech Academy of Sciences said on Tuesday.
Holy died on Monday - the day U.S. health regulators for the first time approved using Truvada, a drug that he helped develop, to prevent infection in people who face a high risk of contracting the virus that causes AIDS. [ID:nL2E8IG8TG]
Truvada includes Viread, a drug used to treat HIV, which Holy created with virologist Erik De Clercq.
Holy, who won a number of prestigious awards including the European Union's Descartes Prize for science in 2001, also helped develop the drug Vestide, used for the treatment of retinitis in AIDS patients, and Hepsera to treat hepatitis B. He died after battling an unspecified long-term disease.
"It is a huge loss," said Zdenek Havlas, a former chief of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Czech Academy of Sciences, who worked there with Holy for 35 years. "He belonged and he always will belong among the greatest chemists and scientists."
"He had a special talent for looking at a chemical structure to tell immediately whether it was worth continuing to explore and whether it would have any effects."
Under communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia, Holy was banned from supervising students and worked alone with the help of just one technician.
After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, he was allowed to build his team and began to give lectures at Czech universities. In 2008 he received an honorary professorship at the University of Manchester's School of Chemistry in Britain.
U.S. pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc, the makers of Truvada, donated millions of dollars to the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, and part of that donation was used to fund his research.
(Reporting by Jana Mlcochova; Editing by Chris Wickham and Pravin Char)