By Edward Cox, M.D., M.P.H.
Since HIV/AIDS first entered the public consciousness in the 1980s, the biology of the disease has both perplexed and astounded us. Although more than 34 million people live with HIV worldwide, in recent years the disease has also served to unite us in a common goal – the search for a cure.
When I joined FDA more than a decade ago, after having spent time as a fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and in private practice, I could not have imagined the unprecedented level of progress we’d see in the area of drug development for HIV/AIDS. The vast majority of these pivotal breakthroughs have occurred during the last decade and the development programs have often included clinical studies conducted outside of the U.S.
And while our core mission has traditionally focused on protecting the health of Americans while promoting the development of innovative drugs for use here at home, my background as an infectious disease expert allowed me realize early on that FDA would increasingly play an important role in the global public health arena, particularly in areas such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and tuberculosis.
I am particularly proud of our role internationally in supporting the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Since its inception in 2003, the PEPFAR program continues to serve as a great example of what can be accomplished through collaboration and coordination with our foreign partners.
Since 2004, the agency has worked to ensure that people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide have timely access to safe and effective antiretroviral drugs that have been manufactured by facilities in the U.S. and abroad. As of 2011, FDA has approved more than 137 formulations of drugs and new fixed-dose combination products to treat HIV.
The PEPFAR program itself has directly supported lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for over 3.9 million men, women and children through partnerships with more than 30 countries, including China, Haiti, India, Vietnam and more than a dozen African nations.
And just last week HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Deborah Autor, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy, met with regulatory officials from India and companies with operations in the region to emphasize the importance of continued dialogue on current and emerging public health issues. Among the many topics of discussion was the ongoing need and value of the PEPFAR program.
Today, FDA continues to actively encourage sponsors worldwide to submit U.S. marketing applications for single entity, fixed dose combination, and co-packaged versions of previously approved antiretroviral therapies. My colleagues in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) Office of Antimicrobial Products and Office of Generic Drugs stand ready to continue working with companies who are dedicated to providing low-cost therapies to people living with HIV/AIDS around the world.
In December, we commemorated the 23rd anniversary of World AIDS Day and highlighted the 2011 U.S. theme — Leading with Science, Uniting for Action — which Commissioner Hamburg noted was particularly meaningful to FDA given the agency’s role. The success of the PEPFAR program is an excellent example of how science and interaction can quickly translate into meaningful progress for people living with HIV/AIDS.
As a scientist and FDA reviewer, I follow the progress being made when new findings about the disease are released each year. Personally, I can tell you that at FDA we all celebrate the victories that represent progress for patients and express our frustration and disappointment with the setbacks.
While a cure remains elusive for now, we intend to solidify our global imprint by continuing our efforts in support of the PEPFAR program. For our part, FDA will continue encouraging the development of new and effective therapies to treat patients.
More information can be found on “What’s New at FDA in HIV/AIDS.”
Edward Cox is the Director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research