Dr. Anthony Fauci, explained

published on July 20, 2020

At the October 13, 1988 Presidential Debate, Michael Dukakis and George HW Bush were asked “Who are the heroes who are there in American life today, who are the ones that you would point out to young Americans as figures who should inspire this country?” “Jaime Escalante” “Valladares” “Those people that took us back into space again” “Sports heroes”

Vice President Bush eventually responded with: “I think of Dr Fauci, probably never heard of him You did Ann heard of him He’s a very fine researcher, top doctor at National Institute of Health, working hard doing something about research on this disease of AIDS”

Today, Dr Anthony S Fauci is best known because of his position in the Coronavirus task force and for his many media appearances In the US, he’s one of the most recognizable faces in the current crisis How did this doctor go from his research lab in Bethesda, Maryland to becoming one of the most visible medical experts on the pandemic today? “Dr Fauci”

“Dr Fauci thanks so much for taking the time” “Dr Fauci” “Dr Anthony Fauci” The June 5, 1981 weekly report by the Centers for Disease Control was a notable one It recorded 5 unusual cases of pneumonia These cases would become known as some of the earliest reports of AIDS

The next year, Dr Anthony Fauci wrote an early paper about the disease, which had increased to “290 recognized cases” and had become “a public health problem of essentially epidemic proportions” Fauci worked at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIAID, heading up a lab that studied immune system response NIAID conducts research on diseases to help understand, treat and prevent them

It falls under the National Institutes of Health or NIH — the medical research agency part of the Department of Health and Human Services In the early '80s, the NIH had 15 institutes – with NIAID and National Cancer Institute leading investigation of the new virus and disease that would become known as HIV/AIDS Fauci made that investigation the focus of his career “Today we’re going to be listening to Dr Anthony Fauci, he’s going to be talking

About AIDS” “I’m working directly on AIDS, both clinically and on a basic science standpoint It really is one of the few, or actually one of the only subjectswhere you really have to change your lecture every month” Fauci was named director of NIAID in 1984, and the then Director of Health and Human Services highlighted Fauci’s background in “immunology and infectious diseases”

As a main reason for his appointment “A major effort was directed at determining if a variant of this virus could actually cause depletion of lymphocytes, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome And as it turned out, a variant of that virus in fact caused the syndrome” Fauci’s leading early research helped define NIAID as the central NIH institute for AIDS And he made it a point to be the person communicating key findings to the public and media

“The scientific data is overwhelming that in fact AIDS cannot be transmitted by casual contact” But it was a later political test that shows how Fauci navigated the AIDS crisis and secured his career In the summer of 1988, playwright Larry Kramer wrote an open letter to Anthony Fauci, calling him an “incompetent idiot”, and a “murderer”

His opinion was broadly reflective of activists, most notably the organization Kramer inspired, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP In 1986, Fauci had reinforced his position as the leading scientist for the Federal AIDS effort He created a new division to focus on the disease and earned other significant NIH posts But progress was slow, especially for a disease as deadly as AIDS, where patients died, on

Average, 15 months after diagnosis Fauci and NIAID were responsible for starting trials for new drugs, which the FDA, required for approval In June 1986, NIAID created a network of clinical trial centers around the country, though they were criticized as ineffective Activists argued that the NIH, the FDA, and leadership up to President Reagan had failed

To take the crisis seriously This photo from an October 1988 protest shows the key complaints At the time, the FDA’s lengthy drug approvals required strict scientific clinical trials It was textbook science, but the disease killed at a faster pace than the FDA’s process If you entered a trial, a certain percentage of patients got the drug, and a certain percentage got a placebo

This helped test if the drugs were safe and if they really worked — that was important, because many AIDS drugs didn’t pan out But with AIDS, getting a placebo was a death sentence And that meant fewer volunteers for clinical trials The epidemic needed a radical approach But experimental approaches like aerosolized pentamidine weren’t being approved

The drug helped treat one of the most common infections caused by AIDS Yet, trials had been delayed by NIAID, which Fauci blamed on insufficient staff Under pressure, he acknowledged the approval problem in 1988, testifying in Congress that he would “go for what is available on the street” if he were a patient — a blunt rebuke to FDA policy keeping these new approaches out of reach Fauci also went on to admit that it took them a “long time” to start trials of Dextran

Sulfate, a drug that had early enthusiasm among AIDS patients For the few approved options, like the then-promising drug AZT, activists criticized the high prices charged by maker Burroughs Wellcome All these issues had spawned large networks of Buyers Clubs — AIDS patients who pooled their resources to import non-FDA approved drugs In 1990, activists staged another major protest – this time at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland,

Where Fauci worked It was a turning point In two key ways, Fauci incorporated the sharp activist criticisms and ideas into the government response In 1990, NIAID invited activist representatives into the administrative committees for every AIDS Clinical Trial Group

This allowed for the government response to include on-the-ground knowledge Starting in 1989, Fauci had also voiced support for a new program called parallel track, forcing the FDA to consider it In it, patients who couldn’t participate in clinical trials could still get unapproved drugs, once they’d been tested for basic safety Even if some drugs didn’t work, at least they would be available to try

The day ACTUP stormed the NIH, in May 1990, the Federal Register published the FDA’s plans to adopt a parallel track plan “I’m Doctor Anthony Fauci” 19 years before Brad Pitt played Anthony Fauci on Saturday Night Live, SNL castmember Chris Kattan played him in 2001— “Thank you” —during an anthrax scare

Two decades ago, Fauci was already the face of public health response to unusual diseases That included everything from Anthrax and flu updates to running the US Government’s massive AIDS treatment program in Africa under President George W Bush All that’s helped his relationship with activists — Fauci called Larry Kramer “a dear friend who was a long time nemesis… I remember he wanted to get my attention by writing an open letter to ‘that incompetent

Idiot’ Dr Tony Fauci He needed to stir the pot” By staying in the same role at NIAID since 1984, Fauci became a fixture across five NIH directors, eight Centers for disease control directors, and eight surgeons general They’re appointed by the President – and Fauci’s been around for 6 of them As the Director of NIAID, he’s insulated from that political element

The AIDS response in particular illustrates how Fauci manages stakeholders – from inside and outside the government, and from above and below his position That and his scientific expertise, has made him a constant during a new crisis too “Our recent advances of being able to isolate, identify, and characterize the agent together with the advances in understanding the history and pathophysiology of this disease will allow us over the next year to come back to you to tell you that we not only have hope and

Hypothesis, but that we have real prevention and indeed a real cure Thank you”

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