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HIV Biotech Meeting in Atlanta
  Elton John: HIV/AIDS needs more attention
Speaking at convention, singer calls for better education, medical care.
By Shelia M. Poole
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Elton John is used to wowing an audience with his music.
Tuesday, however, the part-time Atlantan used the stage for another reason -- to press for a renewed and aggressive push to rid the world of HIV/AIDS.
"I've watched 60 close friends die," said John, a keynote speaker at the 2009 Bio International Convention, the world's largest biotechnology gathering. Those friends included Ryan White, the Indiana teen who contracted the disease from a blood transfusion, and fellow musician Freddie Mercury.
John said the world's governments and institutions can no longer afford to ignore the realities of the disease. More is needed in education, particularly among young people; access to medical care; and controversial needle exchange programs.
During the 1980s, as the disease was gaining momentum, John said he "should have been on front the lines, I should have spoken out, I should have done more, but I didn't. ... I'm ashamed."
Through 2007, the disease has claimed more than 580,000 lives in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. John said there is still a stigma associated with the disease and that HIV/AIDS has slipped from the radar of many Americans.
He cited a Kaiser Family Foundation report that found the number of Americans who thought HIV/AIDS was the nation's most urgent health problem dropped from 44 percent in 1995 to 17 percent in 2006 and to 6 percent today.
The share of young people (ages 18 to 29) who said they were personally concerned about contracting the virus fell from 30 percent in 1997 to 17 percent now.
John is a longtime supporter of HIV prevention and related causes. In 1992, he founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in the United States and a year later founded a sister organization in the United Kingdom. Combined, the organizations have raised more than $150 million to support projects in 55 nations.
"We are truly the David of nonprofits fighting the Goliath of diseases," he said.
John's message was hardly lost on his audience, which included CEOs of companies developing therapies and vaccines for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Among them was Bob McNally, CEO of GeoVax Labs Inc. in Atlanta, which is working on a vaccine against HIV/AIDS.
"He hit everybody to say just not enough is being done," McNally said. "HIV is a story from yesterday and still people continue to die from the disease. ... He spurred the audience towards being advocates."

Press Release
Biotech Leaders, Patient Advocates Highlight Cutting-Edge HIV/AIDS Therapies, Need for Next... 05.19.09, 04:50 PM EDT
BusinessWire - Leaders in biotechnology research and patient advocacy joined forces today at the 2009 BIO International Convention to discuss the latest breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS treatments. Following a keynote speech by Sir Elton John focused on the needs of the HIV/AIDS community, representatives of biotech companies previewed the next generation of treatments while patient advocates reiterated the need for new therapies, particularly for those who have developed resistance to existing medications. Researchers are developing new therapies that are more effective in treating HIV/AIDS, including an AIDS vaccine and new methods of delivery that hold the potential to increase patient compliance.
"Through biotechnology, we have been able to suppress many of the symptoms of AIDS, increasing both quality of life and life expectancy for millions of people around the world who are living with HIV/AIDS. Day in and day out, the men and women of biotechnology are working to find a way to one day put an end to this terrible disease," said Jim Greenwood, President and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Greenwood was joined by a number of companies and patient representatives:
-- John Bonfiglio, CEO of Argos Therapeutics
-- Marie-Pierre de Bethune, Ph.D., Vice President, Scientific Affairs, Tibotec
-- Michael Manganiello, Board Member, Whitman-Walker Clinic
-- Robert McNally, President and CEO, GeoVax Labs
-- David Miller, Board Member, AIDS Institute
-- Paul Stoffels, M.D., Company Group Chairman, Research & Development, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson
"For 22 years, I have lived with a disease for which there is no cure," said Michael Manganiello. "But I am hopeful. And, initiatives like the ones we are learning about today give me hope. I believe that innovative approaches to the discovery and development of new treatments will lead to a cure for the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS."
Approximately two million people die from HIV/AIDS each year, and an equal number of children live with the disease. Today, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, although the annual number of deaths attributed to AIDS has declined in the past two years, in part as a result of greater access to treatment.
Biotechnology has led the way in developing advanced treatments for the more than 33 million people worldwide who are HIV positive and/or living with AIDS.
To help meet the needs of people living with AIDS, BIO announced a two week fundraising campaign to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation. BIO challenged the broader biotech community to match the association's own donation of $150,000. To make a contribution to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, log onto between now and June 2.
About Argos Therapeutics, Inc The Company has generated multiple platform technologies and a diverse pipeline of products based on its expertise in the biology of dendritic cells - the master switch that turns the immune system on or off. The Company's Arcelis(TM) technology trains the immune system to recognize and attack the disease.
Although current therapies (primarily highly active antiretroviral therapy) constitute a $5 billion market, they have a number of limitations and challenges and often ultimately fail due to viral mutation and resistance. Argos' Arcelis(TM) HIV immunotherapy addresses a number of these issues by mobilizing a broad-based and completely relevant immune assault on the patient's own virus. The Company is currently enrolling and treating patients in a Phase 2 HIV trial at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.
About GeoVax Labs, Inc GeoVax is a Biotechnology company developing human vaccines for diseases caused by HIV-1 (Human Immunodeficiency Virus - AIDS) and other infectious agents.
The company works to develop AIDS vaccines for global markets, manufacture and test these vaccines under GMP/GLP conditions (FDA guidelines), conduct phase I/II and III human trials for vaccine safety and effectiveness and obtain regulatory approval of these vaccines in the USA and specified international markets.
About Tibotec Tibotec R&D is dedicated to the discovery and development of innovative new drugs for HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases of high unmet medical need. Tibotec was established in 1994 by Rudi Pauwels as a drug discovery laboratory. In 1995, Virco was established as a spin-off to improve the management of HIV/AIDS with innovative, new molecular diagnostic tools for HIV resistance testing that would better inform the treatment decisions made by physicians. In April 2002, Tibotec and Virco were acquired by Johnson & Johnson and evolved to a fully integrated pharmaceutical company focussing on the discovery and the development of new drugs for Infectious Diseases.
About 2009 BIO International Convention The world's leading biotechnology industry event, the BIO International Convention, is taking place May 18-21, 2009, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. The BIO International Convention is the largest global event for the biotechnology industry and attracts the biggest names in biotech, offers key networking and partnering opportunities, and provides insights and inspiration on the major trends affecting the biotech industry. The annual event draws industry leaders from 48 states and 60 countries.
The BIO International Convention helps to support BIO programs and initiatives. BIO works throughout the year to create a policy environment that enables the industry to continue to fulfill its vision of bettering the world through biotechnology innovation. For more information on the global event for biotechnology, including program and housing information, please visit
About BIO BIO represents more than 1,200 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of innovative healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products. BIO also produces the BIO International Convention, the world's largest gathering of the biotechnology industry, along with industry-leading investor and partnering meetings held around the world.

Elton John talks AIDS at BIO International Convention
San Francisco Business Times - by Urvaksh Karkaria
Sir Elton John might have been wearing rose-tinted glasses, but his keynote speech at the 2009 BIO International Convention in Atlanta on Tuesday was anything but rosy.
Despite medical advances, John told the hundreds of biosciences executives lunching on steak salad and key lime pie, that HIV/AIDS "is still winning."
"It continues to devastate populations in the developing world," John said. "But the epidemic is also worse than we thought in this very city and in this very country -- the richest and most powerful on the earth."
John implored the assembled executives to not just fight the disease with science, but also help change perceptions and public policy.
Fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, John said, must be done not just with miracle vaccines, but by fighting stigma and breaking down barriers.
"There are long standing stereotypes and prejudices that inhibit our efforts to combat AIDS," he said.
Since 1992, the Elton John Aids Foundation (EJAF) has raised $150 million toward fighting and preventing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. EJAF is the largest AIDS foundation in the United Kingdom and one of the largest in the United States.
"We are not endowed like the Ford Foundation or the Gates Foundation," John said, adding that every dollar spent is raised privately. "We are the David of non-profits, fighting the Goliath of diseases."
John said he launched EJAF, partly out of guilt.
"I needed to face the reality that during the 1980s I should have been on the frontlines," said John, who has lost 60 friends to the disease. "I should have spoken out, I should have done more. And I did not."
In his speech, John took world governments and the medical industry to task for not doing enough to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"We are in the third decade of this epidemic," John said, "and shockingly the American public health establishment isn't resourced enough to fully deploy the testing, treatment and technologies that are proven to save lives."
While HIV/AIDS has fallen off the radar of many Americans and governments, John suggested the disease is far from beaten.
He noted some statistics to support his point:
· More than 1 million Americans, today, are living with HIV and more than 500,000 lack the necessary treatment to survive, John said. About a third of new AIDS cases are among people under the age of 30.
· AIDS is one of the leading causes of death among young black women and prevalence rates among middle-aged black men in Manhattan equals those in sub-Saharan Africa.
· About 41 percent of HIV-positive Americans live in the South. Yet, fewer than half of those are on treatment.
To help make a dent in those stats, John said, his foundation is funding education and advocacy programs. The organization is also funding needle exchange programs and AIDS education for students.
But the David of nonprofits cannot alone take down AIDS Goliath.
"All of us must confront the reality of the AIDS epidemic," John implored the audience. "You are uniquely positioned to lead the way in shaping how this disease is perceived and addressed."
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