Kevin Robert Frost believes he’ll see a cure for AIDS in his lifetime.
The San Antonio native lived in Dallas during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, so he’s familiar with the local organizations providing services for people with HIV. In 1990, he moved to New York to pursue a musical career but four years later began working for amfAR, The
Foundation for AIDS Research. Finding a cure has been his passion ever since.
“At our heart, we fund research,” he said. “That’s our DNA.”
Frost, who has been CEO of amfAR since 2007, is in Dallas for one of the foundation’s biggest annual fundraisers, Two x Two for Art and AIDS.
Money raised at that art auction is split between amfAR and the Dallas Museum of Art.
Before arriving in Dallas, he took a motorcycle trip around the state with the president of Kiehl’s, a skincare company that’s a longtime supporter of amfAR, and one of the artists whose work will be auctioned at the Oct. 26 Dallas fundraiser that is already sold out.
The trio of riders began in Austin and rode through Houston and Longview before heading to Dallas. At each stop, they made media appearances to talk about AIDS research.
Although Two x Two is one of amfAR’s largest fundraisers, Frost said the organization invests more money in the city than it takes out. Over the years, the foundation has granted millions of research dollars to UT Southwestern and Baylor.
“We have to be careful about being the 800-pound gorilla,” he said.
By that he meant amfAR can’t come to a city and drain funds that would have gone to local AIDS service agencies.
AIDS Services of Dallas CEO Don Maison agreed that amfAR has been careful over the years.
“They’re hitting pockets that wouldn’t give locally or would not otherwise give to AIDS,” he said.
Frost described his foundation’s goal.
“We have a laser-like focus on finding a cure for this disease,” he said. “The vast majority of our funds are going to search for a cure.”
And unlike researchers working with drug companies who describe HIV as a controllable virus, he said he believes a cure is possible. However, he doesn’t believe one unexpected drug breakthrough will cure the virus leading to its sudden eradication. Instead, he compared the cure for
AIDS to the way cancer is being conquered. He expects new treatments to begin to lead to cures.
He pointed to several people who have recently been treated and are considered cured. Two men with HIV received stem-cell transplants to treat cancer earlier this year. Both seem to have cleared the virus from their bodies. In 2007, a man received a bone marrow transplant for leukemia and has been cleared of any sign of HIV.
The treatments have gotten incrementally better, and the stem-cell approach will be tried again. Frost sees this as the path to curing HIV. In addition, he said with more people in treatment, the community viral load decreases. Better access to treatment will produce fewer new infections.
Global as well as local statistics bear that out. New annual diagnoses of HIV have decreased by a third in the past 10 years in Dallas County. In 2003, almost 1,100 new cases of HIV were found. Last year, fewer than 800 new positive results were reported with increased testing over the past decade.
Frost said several things contributed to that decline in community viral load producing fewer new positive results.
“The ease with which people can go on one pill a day and most doctors recognizing the sooner you treat a patient the better,” he said contributed to the decline.
Until there’s a cure, Frost believes in a multi-pronged approach to controlling the epidemic.
Keeping people in treatment is important. Prevention is another factor.
He calls the controversial PrEP, short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, “another tool to try to prevent people from acquiring HIV,” but saw limited use for it. In that treatment, people who are negative take HIV medication daily to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
He called a recent Supreme Court decision a positive step in controlling the spread of the virus. That decision overturned a law passed in 2003 that required agencies accepting federal funds to adopt a policy opposing prostitution. Frost said the law prevented organizations from working with prostitutes in the fight against AIDS.
“We were always leery of taking government money,” he said.
AmfAR took a pragmatic approach.
“The board said, ‘sign it and ignore it,’” he said.
In June, the court overturned the law as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.
Since 1985, amfAR has funded more than 2,000 research teams around the world and invested more than $366 million in the fight against AIDS. Among the work the foundation funded were studies that led to the development of protease inhibitors.
When Two x Two for Art and AIDS concludes, Frost expects to have several million dollars more to use in amfAR’s laser-like search for the cure.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 25, 2013.