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Working to end HIV

Foundation plans D.C. fundraiser to boost vaccine effort

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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 [email protected].

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mathaias.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Awesome news. Keep up the good work.
    Andreas

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Photos

PHOTOS: GMCW Holiday Show

Chorus performs at Lincoln Theatre

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed its “Holiday Show” at Lincoln Theatre on Saturday. The Chorus has performances on Dec. 11 and 12. For tickets and showtimes, visit gmcw.org.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Photos

PHOTOS: International LGBTQ Leaders Conference opening reception

Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott

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Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The LGBTQ Victory Institute held an opening reception for the 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference at the JW Marriott on Thursday.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

Meet the husbands and creative partners behind ‘Christmas Angel’

A funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast

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Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner with pugs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron.

The Christmas Angel
Dec. 9-19
Creative Cauldron
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046
Tickets:  $35. Students $20.
Masks and proof of vaccination are required
creativecauldron.org

“Ours is like a lava lamp,” says composer Matt Conner describing the collaborative creative process he shares with musical writing partner and husband Stephen Gregory Smith. “We move together in motion in a continual ebb and flow.” 

A couple for 23 years, married for eight, and making musicals together for 11, the talented pair’s current offering is “The Christmas Angel,” opening on Dec. 9 at Creative Cauldron in Fairfax. 

A musical adaptation of the same-named 1910 novel by Abbie Farwell Brown, it’s the story of Angelina Terry (Kanysha Williams), a wealthy embittered recluse who learns the lessons of Christmas from a box of old toys that she casts into the street. Also featured in the hour-long one-act are Ryan Sellers as Horton, Angelina’s butler, and Carl Williams who plays her brother. The angel and toys are brought to life by an ensemble of a dozen teens plucked from the company’s musical theater training program. 

Via phone from their home in Arlington, Smith and Conner shared thoughts on their new show and working style. In attendance are pug dogs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron, whom they call Eddie and Byron in public – otherwise “it’s just too much,” says Conner whose ultimate fantasy involves living on a pug farm where he’d write music and present the occasional show.

Rather than finish each other’s sentences, the duo (both Helen Hayes Award winners – Smith for acting and Conner for directing) expound on one another’s thoughts.

While Conner composes the music, Smith writes the book and lyrics, and together they co-direct. “But there’s no end and beginning where my job ends and his begins,” says Smith. “What we do complements each other’s work.”

Still, there are differences. Smith’s approach is focused. He writes pages at night and edits in the morning. Conner’s method is more relaxed, preferring to sit at the keyboard and talk rather than writing things down. But throughout the creative process, there’s never a moment when the project isn’t on their mind. They can be watching TV or buying milk when an exciting idea pops up, says Conner. 

A clever nod to Dickens, the novel is more than just a female “Christmas Carol,” says Smith. And in some spots, he’s beefed up the 55-page book, fleshing out both storyline and characters including the toys whose shabby appearance belies a youthful confidence. 

He adds, “Every holiday season you go to the attic and pull down the box, or boxes in my case, of holiday decorations and it’s all old but it’s new. That’s the nostalgic feeling of toys from the attic that we’re trying to find through the show.”

The music is a combination of traditional carols performed by a hand bell chorus, and original Christmas songs that intentionally sound very familiar. The score includes songs “Don’t Hide Your Light,” “The Sweetest Gift,” and “Yestermore” – the moment when the past, present, and future come together. 

Also, there’s Angelina’s Bah! Humbug! number “Fiddlesticks,” her great renunciation of the holidays. She believes the world a disappointing place to be, and the sooner realized the better. 

Conner and Smith aren’t new to Creative Cauldron. Through the company’s Bold New Works project, the team was commissioned to write five world premiere musicals in just five years. The result was “The Turn of the Screw,” “Monsters of the Villa Diodati,” “Kaleidoscope,” “Witch” and “On Air.”

Judging from some of the titles and their slightly macabre content, it seems the duo was better poised to write for Halloween than Christmas, but nonetheless, they were commissioned. Creative Cauldron’s producing director Laura Connors Hull brought them the obscure yet charming book that surprisingly had never before been reworked for stage or celluloid, and the pair got to work last spring. 

Conner and Smith agree, “The show is a lot of things rolled up into one.”

Not only is it a funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast, but it’s also a story largely unknown to today’s audiences. Additionally, the show boasts intergenerational appeal while holding messages about Christmas, family, and finding light when you’re in a darker place. 

More information about Conner and Smith, including links to their music and popular podcast “The Conner & Smith Show,” can be found on their terrific website at connersmithmusicals.com.   

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