In 1996, 32,655 Americans died from AIDS. A year later, that number was 16,685. The difference? Protease inhibitors — drugs that prevented HIV from building more copies of itself inside human cells. Acting with record speed, the Food and Drug Administration approved three such drugs in 1996 — the products of a high-intensity race between scientists at Merck, Roche, and Abbott Laboratories.
“I feel sort of the same energy now, all these years later,” said John Leonard, a former National Institutes of Health virologist who led Abbott’s work on its first-generation AIDS drug, speaking at a STAT virtual event Thursday. Now the president and CEO of Intellia Therapeutics, Leonard joined STAT senior medical writer Matthew Herper to discuss the pace of clinical advances in genome editing. “It’s the nature of the adventure,” said Leonard. “Thinking about 1979, 1980, inconceivable stuff back then is mundane today.”
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