Facing FACTS, and Just Getting On With It

March 10, 2015

Jim Pickett, Director of Prevention Advocacy and Gay Men’s Health at AIDS Foundation of Chicago and chair of IRMA (International Rectal Microbicide Advocates), is a long-time advocate for new HIV prevention technologies for men, women, and transgender individuals.

I’ve been a microbicide advocate before I could pronounce the term. And while I am associated closely with rectal microbicides, I was a vaginal microbicide advocate well before I had a clue there was any back-door research going on—and I still am.

The microbicide field has a lot of experience with trials that don’t yield the results we’ve all been hoping for, and working so very hard to achieve. We’re used to being sad, disappointed, heartbroken. We’ve learned to manage our expectations—not always an easy task. And we’ve wiped our tears, tended to our bruises and gotten right back in the game. We don’t wallow.

When I heard the FACTS results—I was sad. SAAAAAAAD. I felt heartbroken—reflecting on the 2,000+ African women who volunteered for this study in the hopes they could be part of HIV prevention history, and help change the trajectory in a setting that so, so, so desperately needs new protective strategies for women.

I felt frustrated for the hundreds of clinical trial staff who gave this thing their all. But microbicide researchers and advocates—a pretty fabulous, resilient, hard-core bunch—don’t tend to linger at the pity party. There is no time to wallow. Our communities don’t have the luxury of wallowing—and we don’t either. We’re learning a lot from FACTS, and I look forward to the qualitative research that comes out and helps us better understand the lives of young African women, so we can do better. We have to do better.

Meanwhile, we have Truvada as PrEP—proven to work with women. And we have two Phase III dapivirine ring studies (the Ring Study and ASPIRE) in the field. And a robust pipeline of films, fibers and multi-purpose technologies. We’re not stopping. We’re not giving up. FACTS hurt us—but it didn’t break us. We all have work to do—and we’re getting on with it.