Why I’m More Hopeful Than Ever About Innovation in HIV Research: A Perspective
Stories@Gilead - September 30, 2021
My first HIV research study roughly 25 years ago set out to understand whether vitamins could benefit people living with HIV in Kenya. At the time, especially given the lack of available and accessible HIV treatments in this region of the world, I couldn’t envision a world where people living with HIV could have longer, healthier lives – let alone see a viable path forward for ending the epidemic.
In the more than two decades since that study, we’ve made astounding progress in the field and I’m increasingly hopeful about the future. I recently joined Gilead to oversee the HIV research and development pipeline, and my passion to help end HIV in all corners of the world has only grown.
I’m surrounded by people with a deep dedication to helping communities affected by HIV find hope with more than just medicine, and I’m continually astounded by what Gilead has been able to accomplish over the years. Through partnerships and collaborations, we’ve extended research engagement, improved HIV education, expanded access and addressed barriers to care. Through scientific discovery we’ve helped address critical unmet needs, and we continue to work towards reaching the ultimate goal of a functional cure.
People like me have dedicated decades-long careers in scientific research and public health advocacy to transform HIV infection into a chronic condition for millions. There are now HIV medications that when taken as prescribed can suppress the virus to undetectable levels – and such levels can help prevent HIV transmission through sex. There are also support services to help people living with HIV achieve viral suppression with their medications and live longer, healthier lives.
Nevertheless, we still have a long and complex path ahead of us. Only 66% of people knowingly living with HIV globally are virally suppressed. Because of competing life demands or concern about keeping their status confidential, some individuals are unable to take a pill every day. Others have severely limited treatment options due to resistance to multiple types of HIV medications; those are often long-term survivors who tried many medicines over the years and now rely on complex treatment regimens.
People living with HIV and their communities and providers tell us that more and new options for HIV treatment are needed. Particularly important are more convenient dosing intervals and increased confidentiality and privacy, the latter of which is critical for people who carry the burden of persistent and outdated HIV stigma. In my mind, we fail all of these individuals until everyone, everywhere can achieve treatment success.
My younger self would be amazed to learn about the future of HIV treatment and to know that someday I’d be exploring the potential of long-acting therapies. These investigational therapies could help transform HIV care by potentially addressing barriers to treatment and providing much-needed options to people living with HIV. We’re now working to develop new agents that are active against resistant variants of HIV, that target novel mechanisms of action with a goal of providing simple and effective treatment options to all people living with HIV, whether they are newly diagnosed or have found themselves with limited treatment options.
HIV work is hard work, and no one does it alone. It’s my job to ensure that at every step of our development process, our research is directly informed by the diverse voices of people living with HIV and the advocates and communities around them. My team and I strive to understand the real challenges people face to develop solutions that make HIV a more manageable part of people’s lives. We’re excited about the future, and we’re committed to always keeping people at the center of what we do.
Jared Baeten is Vice President, HIV Clinical Development at Gilead.