A Maryland-based biotech firm may have just cured HIV. That company recently submitted an FDA application for AGT103-T, an HIV therapy that could eliminate the virus in a single dose. If the agency approves the drug, clinical trials could begin as soon as January.
The news is a good reminder of how drug innovation can address the biggest public health crises of our time. Although medical progress benefits all patients, such breakthroughs are especially valuable to underserved communities. To keep this progress going, lawmakers can consider policies that encourage investments in breakthrough biomedical research and science education.
Many of the most serious health challenges our nation faces disproportionately affect minority and low-income people. Consider that rates of HIV/AIDS are higher among African Americans, Latinos, and economically disadvantaged populations than they are in the population as a whole.
For this reason, recent progress toward treating and potentially curing the illness has been beneficial for these communities. And that progress has been nothing short of astounding. Back in 1995, more people aged 25 to 44 died from HIV/AIDS than from any other cause. Since then, antiretroviral drugs have become so effective at managing the illness that a 20-year-old diagnosed with HIV today can expect to live nearly as long as someone who isn’t infected.
If drugs such as AGT103-T prove effective, then in just a few years’ time, HIV could become a thing of the past, much to the benefit of minority communities and other disadvantaged groups. Something similar can be said about treatments for hepatitis C — again, a disease that disproportionately affects African Americans. Just a few years ago, the best treatments for this disease had serious side effects and achieved cure rates of slightly more than 40%. The latest hepatitis C therapies can eliminate the most common form of the disease in more than 90% of patients over the course of just eight weeks, with minimal side effects.
African Americans have particularly benefited from this breakthrough. Cure rates for this group increased nearly 10% during clinical trials for the first oral, direct-acting, antiviral hepatitis C treatment. And deaths from hepatitis C dropped for African Americans from 2013 to 2017.