It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since HIV was first identified in the United States. Since that time, medical professionals have been working to expand treatment options in an effort to not only put an end to the virus, but also increase patient adherence and improve the quality of life for HIV-positive people across the nation.
When it comes to scientific breakthroughs, 2017 is proving to be a springboard towards innovation, progress, and for many, newfound hope. According to the Medicines in Development report from PhRMA, over 52 medicines and vaccines for HIV are currently in development, including “additional combination treatments, more effective therapies, and preventative vaccines.”
All the medications and vaccines listed are either in clinical trials or awaiting review by the US Food and Drug Administration. Overall, 32 medications on the list are antiretrovirals and antivirals, 16 are vaccines, and four are cell therapies, including a “potential first-in-class medicine intended to prevent HIV from attaching to new cells and breaking through the cell membrane.”
For HIV-positive people with resistance to both newer and older drugs, the development of manageable therapies could be a game changer. According to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, two out of every 10 new HIV cases involve strains with at least partial resistance to one or more antiretroviral medications.
While it’s rare for an HIV-positive person to have a strain resistant to all classes of antiretroviral drugs (Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, protease inhibitors, integrase inhibitors, fusion inhibitors, and chemokine receptor antagonists), they still represent less than one percent of new HIV diagnoses in the United States.
Drug resistance occurs when any disease develops a way to respond to medicine being used to treat it. According to findings published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the number of people with HIV who are showing resistance to their drugs is increasing.
“One of the first big turning points for me after my positive HIV diagnosis over 11 years ago was a premonition that there would be a cure in my lifetime,” HIV activist Eric Leonardos says to Plus. “Today, with the major advancements we see in modern medicine, it looks like my premonition will come true.”
In commemoration of the report, American biopharmaceutical companies also unveiled an ad called “Together,” featuring an HIV-positive person alongside a scientist who is working to develop new treatments, including finding preventative vaccines as well as combating resistance to medications for those living with the virus.
“Some of our biggest tools to slow down and even stop the spread of HIV in the U.S. and the World are testing, treatment and prevention,” Leonardos, who made headlines for coming out publicly with his status on an episode of Finding Prince Charming, added. “Until we reach a cure, and methods to distribute this cure worldwide, this is what we have in front of us today.”
Since the first AIDS cases were reported in 1981, the FDA has approved over 40 medications for HIV, according to PhRMA. Nearly one million people are living with HIV in the United States today, and 1 in 7 Americans living HIV don’t know they’re status. Thanks to medical breakthroughs, AIDS-related deaths have plummeted by 88 percent since the mid-1990s.
But even though science has changed the trajectory of HIV research, we must never forget the past.
“We must continue to talk about sexual health, acceptance, behaviors and habits in schools, universities, and in our communities,” Leonardos continues. “Remember, the conversation we have with our doctor is one of the most important, so let's make it a good, honest, open and judge-free conversation.”