May 10, 2012 | by Juliette Ebner
Working to end HIV

Zachary Barnett will be in town next week for an HIV benefit at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. (Photo courtesy Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams)

Abzyme Research Foundation is partnering with Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (1526 14th St., N.W.) and Cork Wine Bar for “Taste for Change,” a wine tasting and fundraising event to support an effort to end HIV/AIDS, on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

“We’re really excited to bring the presentation to D.C.,” says Zachary Barnett, executive director and found of ARF. “There’s a lot of energy … with the non-profit world and the government sector.”

ARF is a non-profit organization hoping to end HIV/AIDS by researching abzyme technology to produce the world’s first effective therapeutic HIV vaccine. Barnett compares this technology to the recent advancements and FDA approval for a shingles vaccine.

“Once you’re infected with chicken pox, you have that virus in your cells forever, but what the vaccine does … it’s effectively suppressing new outbreaks of infection,” Barnett says. “What we’re talking about is effectively the same. What if we could create a vaccine after you’ve already been infected, that would suppress the virus in your system.”

Barnett, infected by a partner in 2008, was recently named one of The Advocate’s “40 Under 40.” His nomination came at a time when he was considering being more public about his status. A friend had recently called him out on it.

“The chain of events was so weird,” Barnett says. “I kind of made the decision … and then The Advocate called me a couple days later … It was a really cool and serendipitous chain of events. I was happy to be given the opportunity to do it.”

Barnett started as a marketing and events consultant when he moved to New York City in 2006.

After finding out he was infected, Barnett brought his skills and passion to the world of HIV research advocacy.

“Fundraising and non-profit work, a lot of it is storytelling and communication,” Barnett says. “Creating event series and forums to talk to people and engage in communication is key to success, especially in the beginning.”

What started as a moment of personal crisis became a reason for Barnett to do more research on HIV/AIDS and its treatments, including the state of HIV/AIDS internationally. This research brought led him to a 2008 video by CBS, “Possible HIV Cure” with Dr. Sudhir Paul and his science team at University of Texas.

Barnett reached out to Paul and with the help of Marie LaFrance from Interview Magazine, threw a gala for the researcher and launched a PSA featuring Wilson Cruz, Justin Bond and Lady Bunny to engage supporters.

“I’m incredibly inspired by the doctors we’re working with,” Barnett says. “I think they’ve developed such an interesting, creative approach to battling the disease.”

Paul was first awarded a grant from the National Institute of Health in 1990. He’s published a paper identifying the CD4 binding site on the HIV outer coat as the “Achilles heel” of HIV. He has found that the human immune system has the innate ability to produce abzymes.

An abzyme, or an antibody-enzyme, is capable of starting the destruction of targeted molecules. A single molecule of an abzyme can trigger the destruction of thousands of target molecules and abzymes produced in animals have successfully blocked infection of human cells by genetically diverse HIV strains.

“This is completely hypothetical, and maybe getting ahead of ourselves, but … the abzyme technology has numerous applications,” Barnett says. “If this turns out to be a really dynamic technology that has the ability to make an impact on HIV, I’m excited to see where else we can take it.”

ARF’s goal is to raise $1.5 million for a FDA Phase I human trial, ideally in an HIV-positive population, to prove the E-Vaccine is safe and will induce antibodies that neutralize HIV in laboratory tests. According to its website, ARF, which has already covered its operation funding for the year, has raised $50,000 so far.

“We’re looking at a post-infection vaccine … exploring alternatives for daily anti-retroviral treatment. Can we develop a vaccine that will produce a robust antibody response in populations infected by HIV?,” Barnett says of the endeavor.

The Phase I human trial is the third milestone required to obtain FDA approval, according to an introduction brochure by ARF. The last being phase two and three efficacy trials to prove that the E-Vaccine will protect individuals who are at risk of being infected and prove control of virus infection occurs in infected individuals receiving the vaccine.

The organization has already secured a donor who will match the first $200,000 donated.

For more information on the organization or to donate, visit endhiv.com. The organization can also be followed at twitter.com/endhiv. To learn more about the fundraising event and to RSVP, email endhivdc@gmail.com.

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