Pretty much everything we know about how HIV treatment depends on research—and not just any research, but clinical trials involving HIV-positive people. Today’s men, women and children living with HIV have yesterday’s clinical trial volunteers to thank for the highly effective, better tolerated and easier-to-take medications now available. Similarly, the future of our ability to respond to the needs of people living with HIV—whether its novel drugs for those starting therapy for the first time or in desperate need of new agents, new approaches to managing side effects or, best of all, a cure for the disease—depends greatly on people to continue enrolling in clinical trials today.
Of course, deciding to participate in a clinical trial isn’t only about altruism—putting the needs of others before our own. Though most people living with HIV today have an abundance of treatment options to choose from and do not need clinical trials to access life-saving therapy, this is not true for everybody. A growing number of people are at the end of their treatment rope, given that their HIV has developed resistance to most, if not all, of the approved meds. There are also individuals who cannot tolerate many available treatments and need access to alternative options or experimental drugs for side effects. And there is always interest in trying new compounds that are easier to take, work differently than any agents approved to date or are potentially effective against non-AIDS diseases that affect people living with HIV, such as cancers, hepatitis, mental health problems and heart disease.
Should you join a clinical trial? Like all treatment decisions, this question can only be answered through discussions with your health care provider and others you trust. To help you better understand clinical trials and to have these discussions, we offer the following detailed lesson on the subject: