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It Starts with One Sequence -- The Fight Against HIV

Theresa Brady
Theresa Brady
April 24, 2019

It took the sequencing of one genome, for a disease that used to mean a death sentence to become treatable and preventable. In 1984, scientists successfully sequenced the entire genome of the HIV virus, a critical first step to understanding and treating the disease.

Although researchers may not have known it at the time, their breakthrough would lead to significant biotech advancements, new legislation aimed at caring for our most vulnerable populations, and a global public health campaign dedicated to the fight against HIV.

With significant achievements in treatment and greater awareness of the disease, the next step could be a cure.

Some believe the cure to HIV lies in the development of immunotherapy, a treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight the virus. Others point to a recent study on the development of a vaccine to keep HIV symptoms in check—a real breakthrough for people taking multiple medications daily to manage their disease. Another approach was discovered by scientists at the University of Cambridge London and Imperial College in the “London Patient”  case where they learned that by targeting the CCR5 gene mutation through stem-cell transplants, the patient was successfully cured of HIV.

On the public policy side, one of the most impactful initiatives “started with one” advocate, Ryan White—a teenager who contracted the HIV virus through a tainted hemophilia treatment. He was expelled from school and later died from the disease. While living, he pushed for more AIDS research and awareness. Policymakers responded with passage of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act. First enacted in 1990, the legislation seeks to improve the quality of – and access to – healthcare for patients and families affected by HIV and AIDS. The act laid much of the groundwork for the U.S. government’s involvement in the HIV care system.

The biotechnology industry has played an important role in moving the HIV conversation forward with preventative drugs and HIV treatments. The FDA has approved multiple drugs to treat the disease, a test kit that can identify AIDS in 20 minutes or less, and a medication shown to lower the risk of contracting HIV by over 90%. We’ve come a long way since those early days of fear and uncertainty.

For all the work the U.S. has done to tackle this disease, other parts of the world suffer from stigma, miseducation and a lack of proper funding and treatment. In sub-Saharan Africa, where public denial of the disease, cultural beliefs and discrimination still threaten opportunities for effective disease awareness programs and medical care, nearly 1 in 25 adults are living with HIV.

At the 2019 BIO International Convention, leading infectious disease and vaccination experts will discuss recent breakthroughs in the study of HIV over the past four decades. One panel, in particular, will showcase new data on HIV treatment and prevention, and discuss how to balance the need for preventative treatments versus the need for a cure. With small steps every day, and new advances every year, we can win this fight against HIV. Come hear more on this important topic at BIO 2019.