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Fifty Years of AIDS Treatment: 1981–2031

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By Bob Huff

TAGline Fall 2008


A speculative history of HIV treatment presented at the PATH aids2031 meeting “Discovery and Innovation for HIV/AIDS ” held in Seattle, November 18, 2008.


1981

First reports of disease later known as AIDS; 100 percent fatality feared.

1983

HIV identified as cause of AIDS; first treatment attempts fail.

1985

AIDS vaccine said likely within two years.

1987

AZT, first anti-HIV drug, approved.

1988

AIDS activists surround FDA headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, demanding faster drug development.

1996

Triple combination treatment “cocktail” with new protease inhibitors dramatically reduces HIV in blood.

1998

Death rate from AIDS plummets in United States and Europe.

1997

Body fat abnormalities, toxicities appear in people taking HIV drugs. Experts expect AIDS vaccine within 5–8 years.

2000

Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) marches at International AIDS Conference in South Africa to demand HIV drugs for developing world. U.S. guidelines call for HIV treatment when CD4 cell counts reach 250 cells/mm3; stavudine widely used in United States.

2001

Prices of Indian-made generic HIV drugs drop; treatment in developing world becomes feasible. Developing world guidelines call for HIV treatment when CD4 cell counts reach 200 cells/mm3. Primary HIV drug regimen in the developingworld contains stavudine, lamivudine, and nevirapine.

2004

Stavudine linked to body fat problems; dropped from U.S. guidelines. Tenofovir now preferred in the developed world; cost is prohibitive elsewhere.

2006

Goal of universal access to HIV treatment by 2015 voiced by international community. HIV vaccine predicted within 5 to 8 years.

2007

Prolific period of HIV drug development ends with approval of first integrase inhibitor and first CCR5 antagonist; 26 HIV drugs approved for use in the United States. Highly effective and safe first-line and salvage HIV regimens available to most patients in the developed world. U.S. guidelines call for starting HIV treatment when CD4 cell counts reach 350 cells/mm3. Developing world continues to use stavudine and start treatment at 200 CD4 cells/mm3.

2008

Financial markets shocked; Barak Obama elected U.S. president.

2009–2016

Depression. Worldwide economic collapse hits emerging economies and developing countries especially hard. Trade virtually stops in Africa; people leave cities to seek food. Three generic drug makers exit the HIV treatment field. Western governments struggle to spend on foreign aid. U.S. president Obama spearheads global health safety net funded by 2% of world GDP. Funding for Global Fund and PEPFAR HIV drugs continues but treatment rarely delivered outside of cities. Progress toward universal HIV drug access halts. Treatment money stable but absorbed by switch to tenofovir as fewer patients are treated.

2013

HIV prevalence in Africa drops as transmission declines due to restricted trade and mobility and as AIDS deaths increase. AIDS activists march in world capitals demanding new drive to universal HIV treatment access.

2015

HIV drug development continues slowly in developed world. Next-generation drugs in existing classes approved featuring low doses, long half-lives, and virtually no toxicity.

2016

U.S. guidelines recommend new 50 mg, once-daily, fixed-dose-regimen tablet of integrase inhibitor plus a protease inhibitor. The compact combination is licensed widely to generic makers; low-cost regimen quickly adopted in developing world; treatment access improves. New guidelines recommend treating HIV infection without regard for CD4 count: treat when diagnosed. Novel U.S. government campaign pays people to take HIV test; 250,000 newly diagnosed go on treatment; transmission rates drop. Experts predict HIV vaccine within 5 to 8 years.

2017

Once-monthly HIV drug regimen in subcutaneous formulation approved; widely adopted in prisons and for nonadherent patients.

2020

Revolutionary, monthly combination anti-HIV transdermal patch introduced. Developed by three Indian generic companies holding new patch technologies; best ideas combined into one product with intellectual property rights assigned to “patent pool.” Breakthrough technology attracts drug patent holders to participate. New HIV patch costs $25/year; safe; sold over the counter. Artists create colorful and trendy patch designs. Patch and drugs biodegradable. Human and economic health improving worldwide as economies surge.

2021

Chinese company develops broad spectrum microbicide based on natural product; safe for vaginal and anal mucosa. Product tastes great; successfully marketed as soft drink; no stigma when used as microbicide. Wide market distribution achieved at low cost.

2024

Worldwide HIV prevalence dropping as treatment rates increase; on track to become “like polio” by 2056. “Cure Pak” studied in large clinical trials; regimen delivered as blister pack containing 60 days of anti-HIV drugs, 7 days of drugs to activate latent immune cells, and then another 60 days of HIV drugs. One-year, drug-free remission achieved in 40 percent of participants.

2026

U.S. president Michelle Obama announces breakthrough antiaging technology derived from HIV pathogenesis research. First HIV vif protein inhibitors enter human trials.

2030

Nonpathogenic HIV strain found integrated into germline of extended family in Central Africa.

2031

First experimental nanomachines “walk” DNA in yeast to locate and edit out HIV sequences. Implantable nanoarray sensors projected to provide real-time telemetry of gene and protein expression in human immune tissue in vivo; hopes increase that correlates of immune protection can be found. Experts predict HIV vaccine within 5 to 8 years.