From Moonshot to Reality: Achieving a World Without AIDS


When HIV caught the world's attention in the 1980s, no one could have predicted that today it would be possible to manage the disease with one pill once-a-day. In those days, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence, and patients had a life expectancy of 1-2 years. At that time, I was a young doctor training in Kinshasa, and that’s when I first entered the field.

In the years that followed, focused scientific research, innovative drug development, and extraordinary collaboration among scientists, physicians, industry, patients, advocates, and regulators helped make HIV into a manageable chronic disease for many. But the pill burden was high — patients had to take upward of 18 pills a day. My mentor, Dr. Paul Janssen, founder of Janssen Pharmaceutica in Belgium, envisioned a day when we would solve HIV with one pill once a day — and as a young physician, that vision for the future was incredibly inspiring.  

I began to work on HIV drugs. We failed the first few times, but with time and perseverance, we learned, and with continued scientific and technological innovation, R&D by many thousands of researchers at academic centers and companies like Johnson & Johnson, we helped transform HIV treatment.

We’ve made tremendous progress, and continue to advance important innovations to help patients facing a lifetime of treatment. But the global challenge remains immense. And ultimately, we can’t treat ourselves out of the HIV pandemic. We need innovation in prevention, so the ultimate goal is to find a preventive vaccine for HIV.  Some people talk about an HIV vaccine as the “holy grail” of HIV – because it has been particularly challenging to find an effective vaccine. I believe that together with all champions of science, we will take our fight to eliminate HIV across the finish line.

This week, Johnson & Johnson is taking part in the Aspen Ideas Festival, Spotlight Health Forum. We are pleased to have this opportunity to connect with over 1,000 leaders and innovators in healthcare to create a shared vision to achieve a healthier world.  

One key aspect of a healthier world is a world without disease, and for us in the HIV community, that means a world without AIDS.  As part of the “Moonshots” track, luminaries in the battle against HIV, including NIAID director Tony Fauci, Health Global Access Project’s Jamila Headley, and Chancellor, University of Nottingham Andrew Witty (formerly of GSK), will share their vision of how to finally put an end to AIDS.  

For many, a world without AIDS may seem like a moonshot. As part of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, Johnson & Johnson, NIAID and others are working on several promising vaccine candidates. We believe that an end to AIDS is now within reach. Only by aiming higher than the moon can we achieve transformational change and advance the health and lives of people around the world.