The Cure Chronicles: HIV with Dr. Marcus Conant
Dr. Conant is a physician who treated thousands of HIV patients in the early 80s. Dr. Conant shares his journey in the inaugural Cure Chronicles episode.
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Jeff Galvin: Dr. Marcus Conant, thank you so much for joining me on the first episode of The Cure Chronicles. You have an amazing background - you were one of the early people who were involved in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This goes all the way back to the 1980s. Please tell us how you ended up getting involved with HIV back in those days.
Dr. Marcus Conant: I was a young Professor at the University in San Francisco studying herpes, and suddenly a whole new disease appeared - a disease that we now know was caused by a herpes virus, kaposi sarcoma. And I started a clinic at the University, we collected these patients and started studying them.
Jeff Galvin: You know that kaposi sarcoma was caused by herpes virus?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Yes, we know that now. We didn't know then.
Jeff Galvin: All right, interesting. But kaposi sarcoma is always thought of as being a symptom of HIV, right? But it's a consequential symptom.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That's right. Remember, HIV is really a disease of the immune system. The virus destroys your immune system and allows other infectious diseases to appear.
Jeff Galvin: Interesting. What happened is that HIV could allow herpes to get out of control, or at some level where it would inspire that type of sarcoma.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That's correct, exactly. Of course, to be clear, kaposi sarcoma is not caused by HHV1, which causes cold sores. It's caused by HHV8, an entirely different herpes virus.
Jeff Galvin: Which is fairly rare?
Dr. Marcus Conant: It turns out that there are lots of people infected with it, but as long as they have a normal immune system, it doesn't cause a problem.
Jeff Galvin: Wow, that is fascinating. So this was like an early indication that this was acquired immune deficiency syndrome, that that's what was going on, and HIV. Wow, what an amazing mystery to have to crack. But I mean, at that point, it must have been all mystery. So what was it like to be on the front lines at that moment as you know, you were starting to see increasing amounts of kaposi sarcoma and other things? What were you seeing?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Well, there are two answers to the question. As a member of the community, it was frightening because people were getting this disease and we didn't know what was causing it. We didn't know why they were getting it and later, of course, they started dying.
But as a physician interested in virally transmitted diseases that cause skin disease, it was fascinating, because it was an opportunity to discover and study an entirely new disease. How many doctors have a chance in their lifetime to discover and work on an entirely new disease?
Jeff Galvin: Well, not all physicians are also involved in research and interested in research. A lot of them are just treating patients and will do that their whole life long. But you were at that nexus of academia and also dermatology, and so you actually were somebody that had a research interest in viruses, it sounds like, and how that and the implications for cutaneous disease.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Yes.
Jeff Galvin: Right. Wow. And so you just happen to be right at that focus point. And what was it like to be there at the moment that HIV started to rear its head?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Well, at that moment when it started, we had no idea that these patients were going to go on and develop other diseases that were caused by the decaying immune system. We had no idea that they were going to get pneumocystis pneumonia and die. We had no idea that it was going to suddenly start affecting hundreds of thousands of gay men. We had no idea that 94% of them would die of this disease.
Think about that. Right now we have a COVID epidemic that kills two percent, and this disease killed 94%
Jeff Galvin: Of the people that were infected. Which is another reason why people wanted to disassociate themselves with that community, to believe that it was only within that community. To bury their head in the sand and sort of hope and wish it away. That is absolutely frightening to have to deal with that concept.
Dr. Marcus Conant: And interestingly enough, Jeff, people had talismans that protected them. We have stories of men who would still go to the bathhouse and have sex, but they'd take a shower each time they had sex.
Jeff Galvin: And that's all… oh, talismans, rituals that made them believe that they were somehow going to be immune to this.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Precisely.
Jeff Galvin: Wow. Yeah. I mean, it's 1980s all over again with COVID in a lot of ways. But you're right, because of the low death rate in COVID, you know, this is a different calculus, but amazing that there's some relationship between you know, now and then.
Jeff Galvin: So what did you do for these patients because you said they came in with all these skin diseases, but you didn't realize that this was something that was going to kill them eventually. So initially you're seeing all these things, and what are you doing? Just treating them like they're, you know, unusual skin diseases and giving them antibiotics and what? I mean, what do you do for them?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Well, what we were really doing was collecting information. We were studying what's causing this. You know, looking at their blood work, what abnormalities could we find, talking to them about their sexual practices, what were you doing that might be different?
Because we thought that there might be some environmental things causing it. There was a drug that was very common in gay men, amyl nitrate, which they use as a sexual stimulant, but it's called poppers. And so there was a thought that, well, maybe using poppers is the reason this is happening to gay men. So all of that data was being collected and looked at.
Jeff Galvin: So you have a mystery disease, and you're basically a detective trying to solve a mystery, but against the backdrop of the mysteries not being solved and the situations getting worse. Did you see it accelerating in the early '80s?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Yes. And, of course, as a physician involved with it, you look at how can I approach this disease. And you think about it, I can approach it by trying to make the society understand it as well as possible, to try to make the drug companies understand it as much as possible, and to try to make politicians understand it. And let's think about that.
I started the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. That was to try to help the public to understand it. I reached out to drug companies to try to get studies done, and we did do a lot of drug studies. And I testified before Congress a dozen times. And so we were trying to do all the three things that you do when you have an epidemic.
Jeff Galvin: So you realized it was an epidemic. I mean, at some point, you realize this is a communicable disease, and this means that it has the characteristics of a viral outbreak, and that you had to deal with it. So you started all these different initiatives. Who were the other stakeholders in this that were alongside of use?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Well, among the physicians that I was working with, we started a clinic where we were seeing patients. But I started a group that would come in after the patients. They'd come in from 11 o'clock to 12 o'clock, and I had gastroenterologists and dentists even, epidemiologists, oncologist.
Paul Volberding co-chaired that clinic with me. He and Paul ended up opening the clinic at San Francisco General. Don Abrams was involved in that clinic. He ended up doing some of the early work in looking about lymph node syndrome, because many of these guys when they first got infected would get swollen lymph nodes.
So there were lots and lots of people, many of whom went on to very illustrative careers.
Jeff Galvin: So a whole team of forensic scientists, basically, trying to help solve this mystery that we're all motivated, you know, sort of in different ways to come and collect together in this group. And your arc into it was as a dermatologist who had a particular research interest in viral drivers of dermatological conditions.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Exactly.
Jeff Galvin: What sort of time frame are we talking about here where this continued to be a mystery and where it continued to be accelerating?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Well, we started to see the first cases in the spring of 1981. The clinic was started later that year. I started the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, what became the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, in 1982, and the number of cases continued to grow.
We finally realized that this was a fatal disease about 1985-86. By that time, enough people who were getting the disease were progressing to die and it became obvious that this is a fatal disease. It was not -- I can remember clearly -- 1987 was clear that we were not going to get a vaccine, because early on, remember, we thought this is a virus…
Jeff Galvin: Yeah.
Dr. Marcus Conant: …we're going to get a vaccine like any other virus.
Jeff Galvin: Sure, as soon as we identify this, it'll be gone.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Sure, exactly. And so the virus had been cultured by Montagnier and Gallo. That was 83-84. By 1985, they announced that they had the virus. But by 1987, it was obvious that even though we had the virus, we couldn't make a vaccine.
Jeff Galvin: Okay, now this is really interesting to say this to a doctor instead of a scientist, but I bet you can give us a great answer on this. Why was a vaccine so hard? Why couldn't it be done the same way?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Well, because it's complex. Remember: to make a vaccine, what you're trying to do is to head off what the virus normally does. If you catch measles, you get sick for about 10 days to two weeks. Why? Because once you're exposed to that virus, your body has to make the antibodies against the measles virus.
Jeff Galvin: And T cell reactions as well.
Dr. Marcus Conant: And not only does it make the antibody, but it makes cells which actually kill the infected cells. Killer T cells. That takes about 10 days. Okay, now you could head that off by exposing people to a little bit of the virus, a dead piece of the virus, and letting their immune system figure out how to make those antibodies before you're exposed to the virus.
Jeff Galvin: And also to condition their T cells to be ready for it.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That's what a vaccine does.
Jeff Galvin: Right.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That's exactly right.
Jeff Galvin: So a vaccine basically prepares your immune system in advance for the pathogen, right? Okay, and so why doesn't this work with HIV?
Dr. Marcus Conant: But with HIV, you've got a problem because not only do antibodies not work, probably because the spacing on the virus is so wide, but the T cell response doesn't work because the virus kills the T cells faster than the T cells can kill the virus.
Jeff Galvin: Do all viral pathogens kill T cells?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Some do, but not the way that HIV does. HIV specifically kills the T cells that target the HIV-infected cells.
Jeff Galvin: So, in other words, HIV will attract over the thing that's supposed to kill it and prep your body for it, and then infect that…
Dr. Marcus Conant: And then kill it before it can kill the AIDS virus.
Jeff Galvin: So it can actually get ahead of that. So eventually, HIV wins. So, how does that impact the vaccines? So having larger numbers of those cells doesn't help?
Dr. Marcus Conant: No, because if you grow up a large number of those cells and you put them in the body, in a patient, and that's been done, the AIDS virus kills them off before they can do anything.
Jeff Galvin: So it's almost like they're just more targets for the HIV virus.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That’s right.
Jeff Galvin: The more you have of those T cells that HIV likes to kill, the more targets.
Dr. Marcus Conant: And as you know, that's what you guys do, you have protected those T cells. That's exactly what AGT does.
Jeff Galvin: So here we are at '87 and we realize okay we're not going to get a vaccine, and people are dying. How long did that situation persist? I mean, when did we get to the point because we know that people can get HIV now, and you see on TV ads all the time and, you know, they actually look happy to have HIV, you know because they're taking a pill and they're having fun with their friends. But you know when did we get to the point where it wasn't a death sentence anymore because what you're telling me is in 1987, you found out you had HIV, you pretty much expected to die.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Well, fortunately, there had been research done, Gertrude B. Elion got a Nobel Prize for it, to find out that you could block viral infections. Before the 1960s, we thought you could never block a virus, but we found out that you could interrupt a virus replication with certain drugs which the virus doesn't understand, takes up in instead of the nucleotides that they need to replicate and makes an abnormal chain, and the virus can't replicate, a chain terminator, if you will.
Now, that had already been done for herpes simplex, and so by so what, what was that?
Jeff Galvin: So before the HIV epidemic, they already had a herpes simplex sort of blocker?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Correct. That’s exactly right. Remember that acyclovir which was the first drug for herpes simplex is an acycloguanosine. So, to replicate, the virus takes up with guanosine that you eat and makes the virus. If you feed the patient an acycloguanosine, the virus, the herpes virus, takes that up, but it can't replicate that chain.
Jeff Galvin: Right. It’s got something else attached to it. It blocks the…
Dr. Marcus Conant: So that’s a chain terminator.
Jeff Galvin: Got it.
Dr. Marcus Conant: So what they started doing was looking for a chain terminator that would block this virus that causes AIDS.
Jeff Galvin: What year was that when they started looking, and did they find something?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Yes, they started looking in the late '80s, and by 1988, they found AZT. That’s what it is.
Jeff Galvin: It seems like the perception of AZT was that it was temporary at best.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Exactly, and it was very toxic. One of the AIDS patients…
Jeff Galvin: The side effects.
Dr. Marcus Conant: …called it Drano in a pill, and it was. It would make patients sicker than hell, but it did show that it would block the virus.
Jeff Galvin: Okay, so it was an experimental result that said at least blocking the virus is possible.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That's exactly right.
Jeff Galvin: So what's the next step?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Once you've got something that works, then you make that better, right? That's the obvious thing. And of course, the problem early on is they were making drugs that were better. 3TC, D4T, all of these were chain terminators, but the problem was that all of them, it only took one mutation…
Jeff Galvin: …of the virus.
Dr. Marcus Conant: …of the virus to escape the drug. Suddenly when they started getting different groups of drugs like protease inhibitors, you could put a chain terminator and a protease inhibitor, both which work through different mechanisms. Now the virus has to get two mutations simultaneously.
Jeff Galvin: And we know how statistics works. It gets much harder.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Much harder. In other words, the virus has to go through a very tough mutation to beat that. Some of the other early drugs though, like 3TC, it only took one mutation and boom, the drug is lost.
Jeff Galvin: This is what we hear about drug resistance. When did it get to the point where people were coming in who have HIV, and there was a reasonable hope that you could find something that would be life-extending if not restore them to a normal sort of life expectation?
Dr. Marcus Conant: 1995.
Jeff Galvin: 14 years after the epidemic started?
Dr. Marcus Conant: That's right.
Jeff Galvin: You're telling me that in 1995, finally, you felt like you had a decent toolset?
Dr. Marcus Conant: A highly active antiretroviral therapy.
Jeff Galvin: What's the difference between that and all the other things that you were describing?
Dr. Marcus Conant: These were drugs where it took more than just one mutation, and now we had two or three drugs we could combine, and the virus had to really work hard to beat that. Suddenly with that, we found out that not only could you give them three drugs in combination, the highly activated antiretroviral therapy.
Jeff Galvin: This is the drug cocktail, as they say.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Cocktail, right. Not only could you do that, but their viral load would drop, their kaposi sarcoma would go away, they would start living without the progression to disease, and they could have sex without transmitting the disease.
Jeff Galvin: You knew all of this back in ‘95?
Dr. Marcus Conant: All of that was learned later. But many of us then called it the Lazarus Syndrome. These patients were like they were rising from the dead, because they could be at almost the end stage with only a few hundred T cells left, and then sudden it all stopped, it all reversed. But the pills have side effects.
Jeff Galvin: Okay.
Dr. Marcus Conant: The pills are not without problems. The pills can cause demineralization of bones, can cause elevations of fats in your bloodstream, can cause an increase in heart disease, so the pills are not totally benign.
Jeff Galvin: So they’re facing two issues. If our audience wants to walk in their shoes for a moment, one issue is that they’re taking a pill that has some side effects, and my understanding is that these side effects build up over time. So there may be short term side effects that we hear on the ads every night when we watch TV, which is nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue, or headaches, but there may be long term consequences as well. What I understand, and what I heard you say, is that issues with fat and demineralization of bones, so I’ve heard…
Dr. Marcus Conant: Kidney problems.
Jeff Galvin: Yeah, kidney problems, I’ve heard liver, kidney, heart disease, extra cancers, I’ve heard of early aging, bone density issues, osteoporosis, brittle bones. That sounds like the bone demineralization issue.
Jeff Galvin: So certainly, back in 1995, this was an issue. Is it still an issue?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Yes, it's still an issue.
Jeff Galvin: So the modern drugs haven't gotten rid of those long-term consequences?
Dr. Marcus Conant: No, they’re better, but they’re not eliminated.
Jeff Galvin: And even if people are on those drugs, they still know that they've got this HIV in their bodies. So these are folks that still need help, even though there's something that will treat them for life. There may be a way, you know, vaccines haven't worked out, and there have been something like 800 vaccine trials in HIV.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Not only in this country but all over the world.
Jeff Galvin: All over the world. And we identified why that's so difficult is because you can go ahead and amplify the T cells that are responsible for controlling HIV, but the problem is that HIV has this advantage over the T cells in that it can infect them and kill them. Well, there you go, right? You make more of them, that doesn't make a difference. So that's why vaccines haven't worked out.
Jeff Galvin: But you know what's the strategy that you're seeing right now that might give some hope for a new phase of the HIV therapy arc?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Well, you know the goal is we know that AIDS is curable, the Berlin patient proved that AIDS is curable.
Jeff Galvin: Okay.
Dr. Marcus Conant: So the goal obviously is how can we cure this disease? Now, you know better than I, what AGT has done is come up with the next strategy in what we've been talking about. We know that there are these gag-specific T cells that will kill the HIV infected cells, but that HIV will kill those. So if we grow those up, it'll kill them. But what if you grew them up and you put a virus in them that had genes in that which would block HIV?
Jeff Galvin: In other words, you'd modify these T cells so that you could block HIV. And how would you do that?
Dr. Marcus Conant: You would put genes in there just like they did with the Berlin patient. With the Berlin patient, they gave him bone marrow that had a mutation that the AIDS virus can't infect, the CCR5 mutation. So why don't we put that gene into the virus that we're infecting these T cells with? And while we're at it, why don't we put a couple more in there? So that you've got three in there, so theoretically, the virus can't mutate around them, just like with the drugs. You know you finally had to use three drugs so that the virus couldn't mutate around it fast enough.
So why don’t we do the same thing with these T cells, grow them up now, now they're protected. The HIV virus can't kill them. Put that into patients, take them off of their drugs, and let's see if it kills the virus.
Jeff Galvin: So in other words, we would create T cells that couldn't be depleted, infected and depleted by HIV, but were still HIV-specific.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Exactly.
Jeff Galvin: And so we would expect these HIV T cells to still go after the virus just like normal HIV T cells do, but when they meet the virus, they wouldn't lose the battle.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That's exactly right.
Jeff Galvin: And if they don't lose the battle, what we hope is that they will actually clear the virus as opposed to succumbing to the virus, right? And now the T cells that we're working with, which are called helper T cells, these helper T cells are the target of HIV. They are the first T cell subset to be eliminated by HIV, but they have two responsibilities, and that's not just to go out and hunt and kill HIV on their own but they have a signaling system by which they inspire other levels of the immune system to react to the pathogen.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Right.
Jeff Galvin: And those are CD8 cells and also B cells.
Jeff Galvin: So, you know, explain to our audience why that would be helpful in terms of protecting people from HIV.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Because the CD4 cell is actually the conductor, if you will, of the immune orchestra. You've got a whole system there where you can get antibodies. The B cells that you alluded to make the antibodies, but you've got the cells that kill, natural killer cells, and you have memory cells. If you can grow up these cells and let them get in there and kill the HIV virus, maybe you will restore the antibody response, the CD8 response, memory cell response, and allow the body's own CD gang-specific T cells to be made again.
Jeff Galvin: We have seen from previous studies that some people have gone into durable remission from HIV, like the Berlin patient, and that was done with a bone marrow transplant. So, the modification to his T cells came from somebody that just had a natural mutation that was beneficial. Then, we saw at Sangamo that they tried to do that modification using viral vectors, which is what you were talking about - get a virus and put it in there with protection for HIV. They were stripping a receptor off the outside of the T cells that HIV uses to get in there. You also mentioned that AGT's approach has two other forms of protection which block not only these R5 viruses that need that door handle to get into the cell, but block all known strains of HIV. This experiment is worth doing.
Dr. Marcus Conant: The experiment is clearly worth doing, because this isn’t science fiction. It’s based on all of the previous research. It’s the next obvious step.
Jeff Galvin: There's a whole arc of this that comes from the discovery of CCR5, because there were some people that were just naturally immune. The discovery was made in Nairobi, of all places, that they saw that there were some people that weren't getting HIV, and they discovered that they had this weird mutation which was missing CCR5. It turned out not to be deadly, meaning there's a lot of genetic mutations where you can't have a normal life, but these people had normal lives with one weird benefit that it was hard for them to get HIV.
Then, they did these bone marrow transplants that gave this superpower to people that received bone marrow from those folks. You're basically regrowing somebody else's immune system in this new person, and that also supported this theory that if you could do that, you could create a cure. Sangamo got that in a number of different patients, if I understand correctly, by using gene therapy. This was the concept that you brought up of using a virus to go in there and make that modification. Instead of replacing the whole immune system, you could replace part of it with cells that were missing their CCR5.
AGT is adding to that by saying, "Okay, we can not only strip CCR5, but we can do it more reliably." Matter of fact, I'll just throw a stat out there, but nine out of the ten cells that we infect with our virus come up with zero CCR5. It was one in ten in the Sangamo study, so that's a big reliability benefit. But also, the dose of these CD4 cells that become protected by these three different methods is actually two thousand times the level of what was happening in the Sangamo study, and it's at one-tenth the cost, which makes it a little bit more practical.
We're in the midst of an experiment with the intent of curing this, and I think from our discussion we talked about, it's still important to cure, even though we have treatments now that will give somebody a normal lifespan. That actually removes them as a danger to the people around them, right? Because if somebody's well-controlled, we all agree they're no danger even to their lover. Their intimate partner is no longer in danger of getting HIV. I mean, this should be something that everybody who's listening to this should understand, and from somebody who's an expert in this right, is that well-controlled HIV-positive persons are nothing to fear.
So, what do you think? Where are we in this thing you're running right now? I don't know if everybody that's watching this knows this, but one of the reasons you're our first guest is that it was just serendipity that I got to meet you, and that we shared a passion for eradicating HIV in our lifetime. You obviously were just on the front lines for the last 40 years, but I saw a possibility in doing this with technology that was being developed in AGT. So, our paths just crossed, and we shared a real passion for that cure agenda.
Okay, so what did you do? You hopped on board, and thank you for doing that. You brought a lot of your clinical experience here, and you've been running our clinical program.
Jeff Galvin: So, tell us where it's at, where are we?
Dr. Marcus Conant: The good news is we take these gag-specific T cells we've been talking about, we protect them, we grow them up in huge numbers, and we take a patient's blood. We take his own gag-specific T cells, we grow them up, so we're not putting anything foreign in this patient, we're putting his own cells back in the patient. Anyway, you take the cells, by leukapheresis, you grow them up, you protect them, you put them back in the patient.
We've done that now with five patients so far, without any serious problem. There have been a couple of patients who've had transfusion reactions as we put it back in with fever, headache, but that's gone.
Jeff Galvin: And that's not a serious adverse event?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Not at all. People have that from transfusions all the time.
Jeff Galvin: Sure. We hear people get a COVID vaccine and have a reaction.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Sure, but that's all we've seen, and one of the patients has gone now for close to nine months with absolutely no side effects.
Jeff Galvin: In other words, they just feel like they felt before, but they have a billion of these supercells inside of them.
Dr. Marcus Conant: But those patients are still on their antiretroviral medication.
Jeff Galvin: Okay.
Dr. Marcus Conant: So their virus is staying suppressed.
Jeff Galvin: Because of the antiretrovirals, right?
Dr. Marcus Conant: Because of their medication. But now, what will happen when we stop the medication? And so that's the next step.
Jeff Galvin: Yeah. And so we're on the eve of doing that.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That's correct. We just got approval to do a protocol where we do an antiretroviral treatment interruption, where we can take the patient off of their medicine, follow them very closely. Fortunately, I've had some experience doing that because 15 years ago, 20 years ago, Tony Fauci, Mark Elliman, Mark Dibble, and others thought, wouldn't it be interesting to have treatment interruptions? Because the drugs were so expensive, maybe patients don't need to take the drugs all the time. Maybe they only need to take it two weeks, go back on drugs for two weeks, take it for two weeks. That would cut the cost of drugs in half.
Jeff Galvin: Right.
Dr. Marcus Conant: That didn't work. I did some of those experiments back then, 15-20 years ago, so I've had some experience taking patients off. So, with care, watching the patients very closely, we can monitor the virus if it's going to come back. So, I'm very excited about taking them off now, now that they're protected with these modified cells that AGT has made, to see what will happen. What will be the kinetics of viral rebound? What we're hoping to see is the virus doesn't come back at all.
Jeff Galvin: Yeah, and there's theoretical reason to believe that because of the Berlin patient, because of the Sangamo patients, right, that there's experimental data in the past that shows that achieving viral control that's equivalent to ART and keeps these patients non-infectious and with no fear of AIDS is possible with sufficient number of modified cells. And so, we're going to find out whether 2000 times the Sangamo experiment has two thousand times the effect or at least, you know, a higher effect, so a higher percentage of them will not need their antiretrovirals again. Because we saw some patients on the Sangamo study that have not had to go back on antiretrovirals.
Dr. Marcus Conant: And the patient's own body now is controlling their disease, they're not having to take some artificial medication, they are controlling the disease themselves.
Jeff Galvin: So they’re not suffering the side effects of it.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Precisely, yeah. And furthermore, if this works, this opens a whole new area because what other diseases can we treat in the same way?
Jeff Galvin: Sounds like you're excited enough to even be dreaming about what other types of viruses we might control this way.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Of course.
Jeff Galvin: Okay, so that's big news that we're going to be able to do a treatment interruption study. It's big news that you're excited. It's big news that you're on board here at the company, and thank you for that. And it's really exciting to hear about this whole sort of history of HIV, from the initial epidemic breakout, and all the mystery and all of the detective work that had to be done by so many people in order to, in the mid-90s, get to a reliable treatment.
And now we're in a new phase of the HIV arc that might result in a cure. And here you are again, working on that and a very exciting story overall. We're going to have to visit with you again. Hopefully, we're going to see a result in this and a celebration of achieving a cure. We could only cross our fingers and hope for that now, but we could also feel optimistic, given the data that we've seen so far.
But, you know, this is like an incredible story arc from the discovery of this mystery disease maybe in your lifetime to a cure.
Dr. Marcus Conant: And that would be great.
Jeff Galvin: That would be great. All right, well, thank you so much for sitting down with us. This was fantastic to talk with you and a fantastic first Cure Chronicles show.
Dr. Marcus Conant: Thanks, Jeff.