Read the Statement Paul Stoffels, M.D., Delivered on the Occasion of the 2021 UN High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS
Mr. President of the General Assembly,
My name is Dr Paul Stoffels. I’m Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson & Johnson and life-long researcher in the search to eliminate HIV from the world.
Through science and collaboration, we have made much progress since the beginning of the pandemic, transforming HIV into a chronic, manageable condition. Yet, HIV remains one of the biggest global health challenges of our time, with 38 million people in the world living with HIV, and 1.7 million newly infected people every year.
The first time I was confronted with HIV was in Kinshasa back in 1983, when I was doing my first clinical training as a medical student in Hopital Mama Yemo. AIDS was diagnosed for the first time two years before. Patients in the hospital had a life expectancy of 2-6 months. People died from diseases like cryptococcal meningitis, Kaposi’s sarcoma, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cryptosporidium – all combined with severe wasting. There was not much we could do except treating opportunistic infections whenever possible.
Back in 1990, then at J&J, we started with the mission to develop a treatment for HIV with one pill, once a day, providing long-term survival, and available to all. It took us—industry and the scientific community—more than 20 years.
We have come a long way, learning how triple antiretroviral therapy could suppress the virus, and provide several additional years of life. Studying HIV breakthrough and HIV multi-drug resistance, leading to the new next-generation medicines and new drug targets, ultimately blocking HIV virus, providing life-long suppression of the virus and leading to normal life expectancy.
Fast forward 30 years, we now have several combination medicines, almost all one pill once a day. We even went further, developing a long-acting injectable, allowing one injection a month and eventually one injection every second month, co-developed by GSK/ViiV and Johnson & Johnson.
To eradicate HIV, more is needed. Over the years, the combination of education on prevention and condom use, as the most important prevention method, we learned that complete suppression of HIV replication prevents transmission to the partner. Oral pre-exposure prophylaxis, or oral PrEP, was proven to be effective, and injectable prep is being evaluated. J&J supported IPM in the development of a once monthly vaginal ring as a female-controlled method for prevention.
But, we will not eradicate HIV from the world without an HIV vaccine. In collaboration with NIH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are performing phase II and III clinical trials with an HIV vaccine. The phase II study, Imbokodo, evaluating the HIV vaccine in women at high risk of infection in southern Africa, is in its third year, and results are expected in the next 12 months. Mosaico is a phase III study, mainly in MSM, being done in 3 continents. The trial took a delay because of COVID but will continue soon.
Thirty-five years of exceptional collaboration between academics, clinicians, industry, scientists, regulators, NGOs and patient advocates led to transformational interventions in the fight against HIV. Thanks to the funding from national governments, financing through PEPFAR, the Global Fund and other financing mechanisms, led to availability of medicines for the majority of infected patients.
Despite all those efforts, 1.7 million people get infected every year and 700,000 people die from HIV. It is not a moment to be complacent in the battle against HIV. The mission of ending HIV is long from over.
For the people living with HIV, we need to continue to make the newest medicines available.
For people at risk of being infected with HIV, we need to continue to do the research needed to develop the ultimate approaches for prevention.
I applaud the United Nations organizations for the role they played in combatting HIV in the world, especially the WHO, UNAIDS and Unitaid. Combatting HIV has been the success of an exceptional collaboration between the private and public sectors. We need to continue to find ways to work together on eliminating HIV and other diseases.
We are proud of tremendous achievements made in HIV, but the work is not done.
Let us keep working together to make HIV history.