Twenty-Five Years of HIV/AIDS

The knowledge that has been gained since in the quarter-century since HIV/AIDS was discovered has been breathtaking, and the pace at which basic research has been translated into lifesaving treatments is unprecedented. But now the challenge is to develop a vaccine to stop new infections, and to deliver treatment and prevention strategies to the world's poor.

It is now a quarter-century since the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was recognized. The knowledge that has been gained since then has been breathtaking, and the pace at which basic research has been translated into lifesaving treatments is unprecedented.

The discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the cause of AIDS was followed by elucidation of its pathogenesis, natural history, and epidemiology, the creation of a diagnostic blood test, and the development of antiretroviral drugs. In 1996, the approval of the first drug of a class called protease inhibitors led to the adoption of a multi-drug, anti-HIV regimen known as highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART. This advance dramatically transformed the quality of life and extended the life expectancy of HIV-infected individuals.

Moreover, antiretroviral drugs given to pregnant HIV-infected women and newborns have proven enormously successful in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. As a result, since these combinations of drugs were introduced, at least three million years of life have been saved in the United States alone. We now have more than two dozen approved anti-HIV drugs and drug combinations, and a robust pipeline of next-generation drugs in various stages of development and clinical testing.

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