Connect with us


Anthony Fauci reflects on death of Larry Kramer: ‘He was truly an icon’

NIH director’s relationship with AIDS activist both friendly, antagonistic



From left, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Larry Kramer (Blade file photos by Michael Key and Doug Hinckle)

Dr. Anthony Fauci often had a combative relationship with Larry Kramer, but that didn’t stop the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases from fondly remembering on Wednesday the gay rights pioneer and AIDS activist upon news of his death.

“It’s a very sad day, not only for me, but for so many who have had the opportunity to interact with Larry since the very beginning of the HIV/AIDS era,” Fauci told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview.

Although the two had a relationship that was at times friendly, other times antagonistic, Fauci said he and Kramer had conversations right up until his death, including at dinners, via email and “a lot of telephone calls, a lot of calls.”

It was in one of those phone calls a couple of weeks ago Fauci said he began to suspect Kramer’s passing would come soon. At the time, Fauci said he was calling Kramer to congratulate him on a new honor, calling it a “personal friendly thing.”

“He sounded extremely halting on the phone, barely able to get the words out,” Fauci said. “I said to myself when I hung up, ‘Gee, this is not good news. He’s getting very weak and frail.’”

Fauci acknowledged he was aware Kramer “was getting very fragile over the last several months” based on recent pictures of the HIV activist and previous phone conversations.

News of Kramer’s passing Wednesday, Fauci said, came to him via a text message earlier in the day from HIV activist Peter Staley, who urged Fauci to call him.

“It was very sad; we both were in tears on the phone,” Fauci said, becoming choked-up in his interview with the Blade.

Crediting Kramer with having an “amazing life, a full life,” Fauci recalled the late activist’s efforts in helping found ACT UP and the New York City-based Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

“He was truly an icon,” Fauci said. “He kind of forged the area, the role of the activist community and participating in the serious aspects of how you respond to a particular disease that afflicts individuals who are at risk, and actually already afflicted. And that’s Larry. I mean, that’s what Larry did.”

As a founder of ACT UP in the 1980s, Kramer helped lead protests against NIH to encourage the development of a cure to combat HIV/AIDS and distribute it to thousands of gay men dying from the disease across the United States.

One such protest was held at NIH on April 20, 1990. More than 1,000 demonstrators hoisted placards and shouted in bullhorns as they accused Fauci of taking insufficient action.

“I’ve had an interesting, unusual — and in some respects, wonderful — journey with Larry over the years,” Fauci conceded. “Since I was in his mind a representative of the government that he felt wasn’t moving quickly or well enough with HIV, we started off in somewhat of an adversarial role where he was attacking me for any number of reasons, and then as we got to know each other and realized that we both had a common goal that we shared, we became acquaintances, then friends, then really, really close friends.”

In the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there was no treatment. Fauci took a lead role in the development in 1987 of AZT, or zidovudine, the first antiretroviral approved for the treatment of HIV, but that drug was limited in effectiveness and carried side effects.

It wasn’t until many years later in the 1990s — and many, many more protests from HIV activists — that more effective treatments became available against HIV/AIDS, which led to the availability today of Truvada as a prophylactic to prevent infection. Fauci has credited the gay community with having “incredible courage” in lifting stigma during the HIV/AIDS crisis to help the push forward for drugs available today.

Although Kramer had a reputation for being cantankerous and personally abrasive, Fauci said that was exactly what made him effective.

“He was very iconoclastic,” Fauci said. “He was theatrical. He was sometimes — not sometimes, but often times — rubs people very much the wrong way, but he got the attention that he needed to make the points that he wanted to make. So, you know, every once in a while, a giant among us passes, and I think this is one of those times when somebody who truly was a giant and an icon and a legend passes.”

Kramer wasn’t shy about antagonizing Fauci in recent years, publicly criticizing him for failing to develop a cure for HIV/AIDS. Nonetheless, Fauci said the two continued to be friends, although it was “a complicated relationship.”

“We gradually grew into a very deep and lasting friendship, and a friendship that he wasn’t afraid, even when we were at our very best and closest of still criticizing things that he didn’t think were the way he wanted to see me do things,” Fauci said. “So he wasn’t afraid to push back even at a time when we were close friends.”

Asked by the Blade what was Kramer’s most singularly important act in combatting HIV/AIDS, Fauci identified the late activist’s ability to “organize a group of young people.”

“He was outrageous in some respects, but he brought into his wing a group of young activists who took a very different approach, who took a very analytical approach, a very intellectual approach, a very academic approach,” Fauci said.

Fauci identified Staley, Mark Harrington, Gregg Gonsalves and David Barr as among the HIV activists who were associated with Kramer and “came under his wing.”

“He would shake the cages and they would go and get things done in their interaction,” Fauci said. “So, I think it was a combination of him breaking down the barriers between governments and the activist community but also adding a degree of impact…by training and mentoring young activists.”

Asked what he thinks epidemiologists can learn from Kramer, Fauci said the HIV activist’s teachings are more applicable to others.

“I’m not so sure epidemiologists can learn something,” Fauci said. “But I think people who are involved in response to outbreaks and then you have a disenfranchised community that’s unfortunately…the major target of a particular outbreak that you got to learn from Larry that people speak up and make their voice known even if they’re in some respects disenfranchised. That’s the lesson that Larry learned.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this misspelled the name of Gregg Gonsalves. The Blade regrets the error.

Continue Reading


U.S. announces more funding for HIV/AIDS fight in Latin America

Jill Biden made announcement on Saturday in Panama



Former Panamanian first lady Lorena Castillo and UNAIDS in 2017 launched a campaign to fight discrimination against Panamanians with HIV/AIDS. Panama will receive $12.2 million in new PEPFAR funding to further combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Latin America. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

PANAMA CITY — First lady Jill Biden on Saturday announced the U.S. will provide an additional $80.9 million to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Latin America.

Biden during a visit to Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, a shelter for people with HIV/AIDS in Panama City, said the State Department will earmark an additional $80.9 million for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-funded work in Latin America. A Panamanian activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke said LGBTQ+ people were among those who met with the first lady during her visit.

Pope Francis visited the shelter in 2019.

“I’m glad we have the opportunity to talk about how the United States and Panama can work together to combat HIV,” said the first lady.

Michael LaRosa, the first lady’s spokesperson, noted Panama will receive $12.2 million of the $80.9 million in PEPFAR funding.

“This funding, pending Congressional notification, will support expanded HIV/AIDS services and treatment,” said LaRosa.

UNAIDS statistics indicate an estimated 31,000 Panamanians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2020. The first lady’s office notes the country in 2020 had the highest number of “newly notificated cases of HIV/AIDS” in Central America.

The first lady visited Panama as part of a trip that included stops in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The Summit of the Americas will take place next month in Los Angeles. The U.S. Agency for International Development and PEPFAR in April announced they delivered more than 18 million doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

Continue Reading


New highly-infectious variant of HIV discovered by Dutch scientists

This new variant of HIV-1 damaged the immune system twice as fast, “placing individuals at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly”



The human immunodeficiency virus in the bloodstream (Photo Credit: NIH/CDC)

CAMBRIDGE, UK – A study published this week by Science (journal) detailed an alarming discovery by researchers, clinicians and epidemiologists in the Netherlands of a new, highly-infectious mutated variant strain of the human immunodeficiency virus, (HIV), circulating in the country.

The BEEHIVE project – which stands for “bridging the epidemiology and evolution of HIV in Europe and Uganda,” detailed the findings which showed that a distinct subtype-B viral variant of HIV-1 damaged the immune system twice as fast, “placing individuals at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly”, and those with this variant were at a higher risk of transmitting the virus to others.

The variant, known as the “VB variant”, causes CD4 cell decline to occur twice as fast in infected individuals compared with other viral variants. This is a clinical hallmark, or “signature” of the extent of damage caused by the HIV virus. In addition, those infected with the VB variant also demonstrated an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others, the data suggests.

Individuals infected with the new “VB variant” (for virulent subtype B) showed significant differences before antiretroviral treatment compared with individuals infected with other HIV variants:

  • Individuals with the VB variant had a viral load (the level of the virus in the blood) between 3.5 and 5.5 times higher.
  • In addition, the rate of CD4 cell decline (the hallmark of immune system damage by HIV) occurred twice as fast in individuals with the VB variant, placing them at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly.
  • Individuals with the VB variant also showed an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others.

The project’s researchers, clinicians and epidemiologists did determine however, that those infected with the VB variant had “similar immune system recovery and survival to individuals with other HIV variants.”

However, the researchers stress that because the VB variant causes a more rapid decline in immune system strength, this makes it critical that individuals are diagnosed early and start treatment as soon as possible.

BEEHIVE project‘s lead author Dr Chris Wymant, from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Medicine, said: “Before this study, the genetics of the HIV virus were known to be relevant for virulence, implying that the evolution of a new variant could change its impact on health. Discovery of the VB variant demonstrated this, providing a rare example of the risk posed by viral virulence evolution.”

“Our findings emphasize the importance of World Health Organization guidance that individuals at risk of acquiring HIV have access to regular testing to allow early diagnosis, followed by immediate treatment. This limits the amount of time HIV can damage an individual’s immune system and jeopardise their health. It also ensures that HIV is suppressed as quickly as possible, which prevents transmission to other individuals,” Senior author Professor Christophe Fraser from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Medicine, added.

In its Global HIV & AIDS statistics — Fact sheet, the UNAIDS Secretariat detailed the statistical data: 


  • 28.2 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy as of 30 June 2021.
  • 37.7 million [30.2 million–45.1 million] people globally were living with HIV in 2020.
  • 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] people became newly infected with HIV in 2020.
  • 680 000 [480 000–1.0 million] people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2020. 
  • 79.3 million [55.9 million–110 million] people have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic.
  • 36.3 million [27.2 million–47.8 million] people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.

People living with HIV                                                                          

  • In 2020, there were 37.7 million [30.2 million–45.1 million] people living with HIV.
    • 36.0 million [28.9 million–43.2 million] adults.
    • 1.7 million [1.2 million–2.2 million] children (0–14 years).
    • 53% of all people living with HIV were women and girls.
  • 84% [67– >98%] of all people living with HIV knew their HIV status in 2020.
  • About 6.1 million [4.9 million–7.3 million] people did not know that they were living with HIV in 2020.

People living with HIV accessing antiretroviral therapy

  • As of 30 June 2021, 28.2 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy, up from 7.8 million [6.9 million–7.9 million] in 2010.
  • In 2020, 73% [56–88%] of all people living with HIV were accessing treatment.
    • 74% [57–90%] of adults aged 15 years and older living with HIV had access to treatment, as did 54% [37–69%] of children aged 0–14 years.
    • 79% [61–95%] of female adults aged 15 years and older had access to treatment; however, just 68% [52–83%] of male adults aged 15 years and older had access.
  • 85% [63– >98%] of pregnant women living with HIV had access to antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of HIV to their child in 2020.

New HIV infections

  • New HIV infections have been reduced by 52% since the peak in 1997.
    • In 2020, around 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] people were newly infected with HIV, compared to 3.0 million [2.1 million–4.2 million] people in 1997.
    • Women and girls accounted for 50% of all new infections in 2020.
  • Since 2010, new HIV infections have declined by 31%, from 2.1 million [1.5 million–2.9 million] to 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] in 2020.
    • Since 2010, new HIV infections among children have declined by 53%, from 320 000 [210 000–510 000] in 2010 to 150 000 [100 000–240 000] in 2020.

AIDS-related deaths

  • AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 64% since the peak in 2004 and by 47% since 2010.
    • In 2020, around 680 000 [480 000–1 million] people died from AIDS-related illnesses worldwide, compared to 1.9 million [1.3 million–2.7 million] people in 2004 and 1.3 million [910 000–1.9 million] people in 2010.
  • AIDS-related mortality has declined by 53% among women and girls and by 41% among men and boys since 2010.
Continue Reading


‘Promising’ HIV vaccine study conducted at George Washington University

“We are tremendously excited to be advancing this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna’s mRNA platform”



Courtesy of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

WASHINGTON – D.C.’s George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences is one of four sites across the country in which a preliminary component of an experimental HIV vaccine is being given to volunteer participants in a study aimed at reversing years of failed attempts to develop an effective HIV vaccine by pursuing what study sponsors say is a new, promising approach.

The study, which involves 56 healthy, HIV-negative volunteer participants, is being conducted by the nonprofit scientific research organization known as IAVI and the biotechnology company Moderna, which developed one of the coronavirus vaccines now being used throughout the world.

In a Jan. 27 joint statement, IAVI and Moderna said their study is part of a Phase 1 trial designed to test newly developed experimental HIV vaccine antigens to determine if they will lead to the development of an effective HIV vaccine.  

According to scientific literature, antigens are substances such as bacteria, viruses, and chemicals that induce the body to release antibodies that fight off infections. The statement by IAVI and Moderna says a vaccine technology developed by Moderna to use another component of the human body called messenger RNA or mRNA to strengthen a potential vaccine’s ability to fight off infection by HIV is also a part of this vaccine study.

“We are tremendously excited to be advancing this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna’s mRNA platform,” Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of IAVI, says in the statement. “The search for an HIV vaccine has been long and challenging and having new tools in terms of immunogens and platforms could be the key to making rapid progress toward an urgently needed, effective HIV vaccine,” he says in the statement.

The statement says that scientific teams at IAVI and the biotechnology firm Scripps Research helped to develop the HIV vaccine antigens being tested in the trials taking place at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences and at locations in Atlanta, Ga., Seattle, Wash., and San Antonio, Tex.

It says the trial involving the 56 volunteer participants — who are divided among the four sites — began on Jan. 27 and is being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Among those calling the IAVI-Moderna trial an important step in HIV vaccine development is Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“This is a variation of a theme,” Dieffenbach told the Washington Blade. “IAVI in collaboration with NIH did a version of this study already with a protein form of this immunogen,” Dieffenbach said. He said that study worked out well and was published in a scientific journal.

“What’s unique about this latest study is they’re using RNA to deliver the vaccine rather than a protein,” said Dieffenbach. “So, this is an important step for us in the vaccine field, that they can now compare the protein to the RNA.”

Dieffenbach said the IAVI-Moderna trial is taking place after two other recently completed HIV vaccine studies involving human trials that NIAID was involved in resulted in findings that the two experimental HIV vaccines were ineffective. He said a third HIV vaccine study NIAID is involved in that is taking place in the U.S. and South America is expected to be completed in about a year.

The ongoing study in the Americas involves men who have sex with men and transgender individuals as those participating in that vaccine trial, he said.

Dieffenbach said in addition to the vaccine studies, NIAID is monitoring at least two studies of medication aimed at curing HIV. One of the studies was conducted by HIV researcher Dr. Timothy Schacker, who serves as Vice Dean for research at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Schacker arranged for human trials of people who are HIV positive and taking standard anti-retroviral HIV medication to be given an experimental HIV cure medication developed by the biotechnology company ImmunityBio called Anktiva, according to a Jan. 31 statement released by ImmunityBio.

The statement says the trials showed promising results in the ability of Anktiva to induce the immune system of HIV-positive patients under standard HIV treatment who participated in the study to “kill” the latent or “hidden” HIV in their body that would otherwise reactivate and cause illness if they stopped taking HIV medication.

The goal of the development of Anktiva is to “rid the body of the virus for good and eliminate the need for antiretroviral therapy,” the company’s statement says.

Dieffenbach said his office was also monitoring an HIV cure study being conducted by the Rockville, Md., based genetic engineering company called American Gene Technologies. The company is conducting a human trial for a therapeutic treatment it has developed that’s intended to enable the immune system of HIV-positive people to permanently eliminate HIV from their bodies. The company has said it was hopeful that early results of the effectiveness of the treatment would become available this year.

Continue Reading

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts