371NOTE: Susan Galea is Director, Global Clinical Safety and Pharmacovigilance, for Merck; she is working for three months at IDRI as part of the Merck Fellowship for Global Health program. Galea and another Merck fellow, Todd Kennedy, are working on the HIV Cure Initiative, for which IDRI serves as the fiscal sponsor.

Maybe I have been drinking the philanthropic water of this city, but I would be remiss not to mention the generosity that I have seen from day one of my Fellowship. The substantial investment that Merck has provided for these Fellowships can’t be overlooked. Simply put, through the Fellows that they provide, Merck is attempting to fortify nonprofit organizations with technical and human support.

Specifically, here in Seattle, they have paired Todd Kennedy and me with the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) and our sponsor Erik Iverson. This organization is genuinely advancing global health. Many of the world’s most devastating diseases are getting attention here as they focus on new diagnostics, adjuvants, drugs and vaccines for diseases such as leprosy, leishmaniasis and tuberculosis. So why is IDRI the fiscal sponsor for HIV Cure Initiative?  They believe in the importance of this collaboration and give generously of their time with the belief that they share with relevant scientists:  HIV can be functionally cured or at least put into a remission state.

Dr. Daria Hazuda, our sponsor at Merck, met with me before I left for this Fellowship and reminded me that although for many people this has become a chronic disease, for many more the epidemic continues and we must seek to improve upon the existing therapies. Can academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), activists, regulators, government and industry come together in this unique opportunity to collaborate for the HIV cure?  The building blocks are all in place for this to occur.

IMG_3237Todd and I hope to build a strong and persuasive narrative based on a robust cost/benefit analysis to help various stakeholders understand and support the HIV Cure Initiative.  Long-term, it will take astonishing collaboration with sectors that are all driven by different values. Do Todd and I have what it takes to move this forward in some small way?   It is an aggressive timeline and we are two months in. We are certainly learning so much about HIV beyond the science and we have gotten out of our comfort zone which is exactly what we are supposed to do. Right?

Here comes the crazy generosity part:  Experts within and outside of Merck have shared their knowledge and time willingly to move this forward.  I am astonished by the time people have given us. We have traveled to San Francisco to meet with PATH representatives on the project, consultants working on the cost/benefit, and have begun to review the webpage for the Initiative being developed out of Seattle. We will travel to D.C. to meet with passionate individuals wanting to move this forward from finance, government and industry.  It has been a busy few weeks.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates Sr. perfectly articulates, “When you are given a lot, it makes sense to help others. Today’s community isn’t just your city it is the world. ..The facts you see on poverty, health and education aren’t just numbers.” The HIV Cure Initiative is global, it is hopeful and it requires not only hard work and collaboration, but also a continued generosity of spirit that exists in mankind.

Posted by Susan Galea, Merck Fellow