Thanks to advances over the past few decades, HIV is now a manageable disease, but there is still progress to be made.
Challenges remain for those who will be managing their HIV for the long-term, but now a two-drug approach is giving certain people living with HIV another option.
We are joined by Dr. Kimberly Smith, head of research and development at ViiV healthcare, to discuss the latest in HIV treatment research and what two-drug regimens mean for the community.
Question: HOW HAS HIV TREATMENT CHANGED OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES?
Answer: Well, if we think about when we first had HIV treatment come into the scene, it was very complicated; individuals had to take many medicines, sometimes more than 20 medications a day, many times a day. Some people even using alarm clocks to remind them about taking their medications. In addition to the many medications, they also had a lot of side effects, they were very difficult for people to tolerate. And so over the course of the last couple of decades, we’ve made significant improvement to the point now where individuals can take as little as one pill a day. That one pill includes multiple medications typically three or four, but that’s still a significant improvement in comparison to where we were 20 or more years ago.
Question: WHAT DOES HIV TREATMENT LOOK LIKE TODAY AND WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGES THE HIV COMMUNITY FACE?
Answer: Well one of the things that we’re excited about at ViiV Healthcare which is the company that I work for, is that we’ve been able to develop some new medications that reduce the number of medicines that people need to take in order to keep HIV under control.
And so, as I mentioned, typically it’s three or four medications to keep HIV under control, we’ve reduced that to two, and the reason why that’s important is that every medication is associated with side effects and so if you can reduce the number of medications by a third or even a half than hopefully you can reduce the number of side effects that individuals experience and if they have fewer side effects, hopefully they can consistently take their medications and when individuals take their medications and get their virus down to undetectable, they live long healthy lives, lengths that are comparable to people who aren’t living with HIV. And in addition to that, if they suppress their virus down undetectable, they don’t transmit HIV to their sexual partners, and so that’s major improvement. And so, some of the challenges for individuals who are living with HIV is that one; there’s a need to take medications and really take them for decades, maybe for the rest of their lives, and so those improvements are important. The other challenge is that HIV is still associated with a significant amount of stigma and so I do think that the point that I made about getting virus down to undetectable and that meaning that you don’t transmit to sexual partners is important because hopefully that reduces some of the stigma associated with HIV.
Question: SPEAKING OF CHALLENGES, WHAT NEW CHALLENGES DID COVID-19 IMPOSE ON HIV PATIENTS AND WHAT RECCOMENDATIONS CONCERNING HIV AND COVID COULD YOU OFFER?
Answer: Well some individuals who are living with HIV have compromised immune systems and so that would put them in the list of individuals who are more vulnerable to the severe side effects or severe effects of COVID-19 and so the advice is the same for any individual who may have some of the risks for you know worse disease; and so we talk about individuals who have lung disease or people who are overweight being more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and so some of the individuals who are living with HIV and who have compromised immune systems would need to follow those same recommendations; that they would be particularly careful about exposure to crowds, that they would use face coverings and really minimize lots of exposure to individuals who might be at risk for COVID.
Question: TELL US MORE ABOUT RECENT TREATMENT ADVANCES AND RESEARCH UPDATES – WHAT ARE SOME OF THE NEW DEVELOPMENTS THAT YOU’RE MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
Answer: Well at ViiV Healthcare we are the only company that’s 100% focused on developing drugs for the treatment of HIV and so one of the really exciting new advances is that we’ve been able to create a medication called Dovato which is a two drug regimen and it is as effective as regimens that include three or four drugs at keeping HIV under control ,and so that’s a major advancement because again every medication has side effects and so if you can reduce the number of medicines and reduce the number of side effects, hopefully people can be consistent at taking their medications over the long term and really get the benefit from long term suppression of long term HIV, which like I mentioned is normal lifespan and they don’t transmit to their partners. And so, we’re really excited about these two drug regimens and what they can offer for people living with HIV.
Question: WHERE CAN WE GET MORE INFORMATION?
Answer: So, if people would like to have more information about Dovato, they can go to dovato.com that’s d-o-v-a-t-o.com and certainly they can talk to their doctor’s about options for HIV treatment.
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