Few can imagine embodying the possibility of an HIV cure for millions around the world. Timothy Ray Brown carried the weight of our hopes with courage and humility, and his selfless contributions to HIV research changed history.
New York, September 30, 2020 – Treatment Action Group (TAG) is profoundly saddened by the news that Timothy Ray Brown—the first person in the world considered cured of HIV infection—died yesterday from a recurrence of cancer. Our thoughts are with his partner Tim Hoeffgen and family, friends and loved ones.
Timothy Ray Brown’s first introduction to the world came in a poster presentation at an HIV research conference in 2008. The text described an anonymous person living with HIV in Berlin who’d received stem cell transplants to treat a life-threatening cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia. His doctor, Gero Hütter, identified a stem cell donor who possessed a rare genetic mutation that causes cells to be resistant to most forms of HIV (CCR5Δ32). Antiretroviral therapy was stopped during the procedures, but HIV never returned.
Not long afterward, Timothy Ray Brown made the courageous decision to go public, becoming a beacon of hope that a cure for HIV is possible. He returned to the United States and selflessly donated his time and every possible body tissue to HIV researchers to aid their efforts to understand how his cure had been achieved. This cannot have been easy—the cancer and associated treatments caused persistent complications, and Timothy Ray Brown faced difficulties getting needed assistance because he was technically no longer a person with HIV and did not qualify for some social services as a result.
Despite these challenges, Timothy Ray Brown became an advocate and ambassador for HIV cure research, meeting and inspiring people all around the world. TAG was honored to host him at annual community cure research events that we co-sponsor with other organizations, celebrating the milestone of a decade cured of HIV in 2017.
Timothy Ray Brown’s case led directly to the creation of programs that identify CCR5Δ32 donors for people with HIV needing stem cell transplants. He lived to see another individual cured of HIV by this mechanism, Adam Castillejo, who followed Timothy Ray Brown’s lead in going public.
Timothy Ray Brown was a warm and generous trailblazer, and all of us who hope for an HIV cure are forever indebted to him.
Photo credit: Robert Hood, Fred Hutch News Service.
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About TAG: Treatment Action Group (TAG) is an independent, activist and community-based research and policy think tank fighting for better treatment, prevention, a vaccine, and a cure for HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis C virus. TAG works to ensure that all people with HIV, TB, and HCV receive lifesaving treatment, care, and information. We are science-based treatment activists working to expand and accelerate vital research and effective community engagement with research and policy institutions.