The History and Treatment of HIV

As we near the end of February, a month dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating LGBTQ+ history, I thought it would be an excellent time to examine the developmental history of a momentous medical breakthrough – the HIV vaccine.

Last month, Moderna announced that human clinical trials have commenced for an experimental HIV vaccine that uses the same kind of mRNA technology found in their successful COVID-19 vaccine. Success in these trials could result in the first ever vaccine for prevention or treatment of HIV following decades of research.

Working within the Cell & Gene Therapy sector, I am constantly amazed to see the new technologies and processes that are leading to breakthroughs in vaccine development. With the production of the COVID-19 vaccine most likely the most prominent example in everyone’s minds, the development of life-saving vaccines has evolved remarkably within the last 2 years.

Below is a timeline review of significant dates and major breakthroughs in HIV to date:


First case of HIV/AIDS diagnosed in the UK


FDA approves first medication for AIDS


Combating drug resistance by combining antiretroviral therapies (ARTs)


Bone marrow transplants emerge as potential HIV cure


Exploring how ART prevents transmission


Second patient achieves HIV remission after stem cell transplant


The first long-acting injection to treat people living with HIV has been approved for use by the NHS

Current HIV statistics in the UK

A most recent estimate from Terrence Higgins Trust suggests that in 2019, there were 106,890 people living with HIV in the UK. Of these, around 5,150 are undiagnosed, meaning they are unaware that they are HIV positive. This means that around 1 in 16 people living with HIV in the UK do not know that they have it. It’s also important to note that the stigma surrounding HIV diagnosis doesn’t entirely correspond to gay and bisexual men. For the first time in a decade, heterosexual people withhold a higher statistic of diagnoses than gay and bisexual men and have tipped the scale of what has typically been portrayed in the past.

Scientific advances, such as the development of antiretroviral drugs, have enabled people with access to treatment to live long and healthy lives with HIV. We’ve most certainly come a long way from researchers discovering that a failed cancer drug from the 1960s, zidovudine, stopped HIV from multiplying and helped people with AIDS live longer. Thanks to the exceptional response of scientists during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new potential has been unlocked for the accelerated development and production of a life-saving vaccine. I feel optimistic that this initiative can be applied to the HIV vaccine, and perhaps we will see this distressing disease eradicated for good.

The facts used in this blog are referenced by the Terrence Higgins Trust. For more information about current HIV statistics, treatment options and support please visit


Article by:
Ellen Harrington
Technical Sales Specialist