Daily Discoveries. Dr. Brian Johns is currently the vice president of HIV Research at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), where he leads a team of 24 biopharmaceutical researchers to investigate new ways of treating and preventing HIV/AIDS. He has been at GSK for 18 years and works out of their Research Triangle Park, North Carolina facility.
The Driving Force. 18 years ago, Brian joined GSK and immediately began researching HIV/AIDS. He notes that advancements in treatment were already underway when he started, but they were far from optimal. “When I entered the picture, HIV/AIDS research was about bringing innovative new treatments to the patient so that they would no longer have to take multiple pills every few hours, which is what treatment meant back then,” says Brian. Today, thanks in part to the work and determination of Brian and his team, HIV treatment in many cases involves taking a single tablet once a day. “Progress in this area is constantly accelerating, which is part of what attracted me to it in the first place,” says Brian.
Challenges, Chances and Looking Forward. While treatment for HIV/AIDS has come a long way, researchers like Brian are nowhere near done. “The question we are constantly asking ourselves is: what more can we do to address the unmet medical needs of the patient?” says Brian. “By and large, HIV has become a treatable, chronic illness, but the next order of business is to find a way to target and kill only the infected cells while leaving the rest of the body intact. We’ve already seen some encouraging progress in this area, and I’m excited to see what comes next.”
When looking forward, Brian says that he tries to envision what patients will need 10 to 20 years from now. For example, patients typically experience damage to the immune system during the first few months of becoming infected with HIV. Brian and his team would like to find treatments to fix or prevent this damage in the future. “Advances in immunology and our understanding of complex biological pathways have also changed the way we think about the disease and how we treat it,” says Brian. “These advances are allowing us to tackle areas no one even thought possible when the epidemic began.”
“The benefit of the biopharmaceutical industry is that we have of the best minds working on every disease you can imagine,” Brian says. “One of our goals at GSK is to tackle not just the biology, but also the stigma of the disease. Despite all the progress we’ve made, HIV is still highly stigmatized. If our research can reduce the burden of this disease and help return their lives to normal, that is the ultimate success.”