December 3, 2014

Literally, a Life Saver

By Matthew Harakal

“The treatment for HIV that kept me alive would not have been possible without innovation.”

-Phill Wilson, Founder, President, and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute

Think of all that was different in your everyday life 30 years ago. Cell phones didn’t exist. Pictures went in physical albums rather than on a Facebook wall. And holiday greetings were sent with stamps to an actual mailbox as opposed to the inbox that travels with you in your pocket.

In addition to these technological advances, medical innovation, too, has grown by leaps and bounds over the last three decades.

Countries near and far recently commemorated World AIDS Day, putting medical innovation top of mind for the public health community.

When AIDS emerged in the 1980’s, a positive HIV diagnosis was a death sentence, with many patients given only months, weeks or even days to live. The medical community was left scrambling to find a life-extending treatment, much less a cure.

Fast forward to 2014, which marked the 26th Annual World AIDS Day.  Now, millions of individuals around the world living with AIDS have a higher quality of life and a longer life expectancy due to a better understanding of the virus, and especially from innovative new treatments. Many of these innovative products would never have come to market without intellectual property. It takes, on average, 10-15 years and capital investments of up to 1.3 billion dollars to bring a new drug to market. Those private sector research and development investments simply don’t take place without the legal certainty that IP protections provide. IP is essential to ensuring that the innovative company can both recoup their investment and go on to create the next ground-breaking, life-saving drug.

World AIDS Day is still a time to reflect on those lost to this terrible disease, but it has also become a day to raise awareness and celebrate the lives of those who survived. Who would have ever thought 30 years ago that “celebrate” and AIDS could ever be used in the same sentence? Yet, the mortality rate from AIDS has decreased by 83% since the virus was first recognized in 1981. That’s a significant decline that represents a lot of lives, and this incredible progress is something that truly deserves to be celebrated. And today, people live with HIV, and not just survive, but thrive.

As Phill Wilson, Founder, President, and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, said recently at GIPC’s Global IP Summit, “The treatment for HIV that kept me alive would not have been possible without innovation.”

That’s a powerful statement, and Phill is not alone. From patients suffering from AIDS to cancer to neurological disorders, increases in medical innovation are improving the lives of individuals and families around the world.

As we celebrate World AIDS Day this week, let us pause to remember those lost from the virus. But let us also recommit ourselves to continuing the incredible advances in innovation so that the next 30 years are as encouraging as the previous 30.

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