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World AIDS Day 2019, Hope for the Future

12/01/2019

When Eric was diagnosed as HIV-positive at age 25, he was devastated. While he dealt with shame and frustration initially, he soon learned that his future looked optimistic.

The scientific community’s progress in treating HIV/AIDS looks similar to Eric’s story: a feeling of hopelessness at the beginning that today is full of optimism. In 1981, life expectancy for a patient with AIDS was measured in weeks and months. Today, a 20-year-old with HIV can expect to live to the age of 78 if positive status is detected early and the patient is placed on antiretroviral therapy.In just over 30 years, thanks to innovative medicines, HIV has become a chronic condition as opposed to a death sentence it once was.

 

This progress would not be possible without the decades of work by biopharmaceutical researchers seeking to improve the outcomes of HIV patients. A few notable dates include:

 

  • In 1987, the first milestone was reached, when researchers proved that nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) slowed the progression of AIDS in advanced cases. Through additional testing, researchers realized that the drug also helped manage symptoms for children and people in the early stages of the disease. 

 

  • Almost 10 years later, in 1995, biopharmaceutical researchers hit another breakthrough: the discovery of protease inhibitors. These inhibitors halted the growth of the disease by preventing infected cells from duplicating and spreading the HIV virus. This discovery marked the beginning of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), which would revolutionize the fight against HIV/AIDS. Within a few short years, the death rate decreased by 67%.

 

  • Today, according to a 2017 Medicines in Development Report for HIV, there are more than 50 medicines and vaccines for HIV currently in development, either in clinical trials or awaiting review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Among the treatments, there are 32 antiretrovirals and antivirals, 16 vaccines and four cell therapies, each of which holds the promise of better treatment for HIV patients and greater protection for the population at large. And the innovation continues as researchers are also exploring new approaches to tackle the impact of an HIV infection on the body’s immune system by attempting to prevent this damage in the future.

 

But this innovation is at risk if proposals like H.R. 3 are enacted that would threaten our country’s global leadership in developing innovative, lifesaving treatments and cures.

 

Instead of blowing up the current system, policymakers should  put patients first, and should continue to pursue practical, bipartisan solutions that prioritize lowering out-of-pocket costs for patients balanced with maintaining incentives for advances needed against our most costly and challenging diseases.

 

On World AIDS Day, we mourn the loss of those who have passed away from AIDS and related complications, but we also celebrate the incredible achievements seen in treating the disease. With this sense of celebration, we look forward to what lies ahead, and what treatments have yet to be discovered.