Reported by MTV Act.
In 2008, when he was 26 years old, Zachary Barnett contracted HIV from a partner. Soon after, he found out he is what is called a long-term nonprogressor — someone whose body actually suppresses the infection, so it doesn’t progress into AIDS. Feeling incredibly grateful for his prognosis, Zachary felt he had to do something to help others, and launched the Abyzme Research Foundation.
“I felt like I was in a position to really pay it forward and do something bigger than just kind of donate some money or something,” said Zachary. “So I set out to find some way I could kind of help the fight and I found a doctor’s research on CBS, entitled, “Possible HIV Cure.” This doctor had developed a really interesting experimental therapeutic vaccine, intended for people who are already affected, and he was in the process of getting it ready for human trials.”
Zachary reached out the Dr. Sudhir Paul who discovered abzymes, a compound that reportedly destroys the protein AIDS needs in order to survive and thrive in the human body. As a marketing and PR guru, Zachary wanted to help Dr. Paul promote this possible vaccine through fundraising and awareness. To show that he was serious about helping, Zachary sent Dr. Paul a letter with $50 in the envelope.
“I offered to put together a free event for him in 2009, and it got him great traction. Newsweek picked up an article, entitled “Could This Man Cure AIDS?” and we got some amazing response from it. And out of that, one of the founders of the New York Stem Cell Foundation got in touch with me, a gentleman named Richard Massey. He sat me down and he said, ‘Look, this technology’s really interesting, but it’s so far outside the box that it’s gonna have a hard time getting traction in the early stages. It could really use a champion. I will pledge your salary so you can get this thing started.’”
And that’s how Zachary’s full-time involvement in research and fundraising began.
“He basically cut me a check and gave me the resources to get started,” said Zachary. “And what we’ve done is identified and then strategically removed the obstacles for this thing to move into a clinical trial — a human trial. Last year we were able to secure Dr. Ellen Cooper as our FDA Regulatory Official. Dr. Cooper actually opened the division of Antiviral Drug Products at the FDA in 1988. She was also the former VP of Clinical Research and Information at amfAR, so she has this incredible CV.”
Armed with a team of experts, as well as celebrity friends and endorsements (including Rachel Zoe) Zachary set out on a major fundraising campaign.
“This year we’re about to raise $500,000 to support commercial manufacturing for FDA testing. This money will also pay for producing the large quantities of the vaccine you would need for Stage 2 and 3 trials.”
Upon FDA approval, The Abzyme Research Foundation has also pledged to keep the vaccine affordable, so it’s cost is not a deterrent for people — an issue that has always been a problem with HIV/AIDS treatments.
“What we’ve done is we’ve figured out a way to leverage the initial investment for the research into tools for helping actually distribute it once it is approved,” said Zachary.
Zachary knows his goals are big, but believes that believing in yourself and working hard is the only way to achieve your goals — especially when your goal is to work towards creating a possible vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
“I think it’s important to spread the message that anybody can really help in any way they think they can. Not to toot my own horn, but anybody can decide to help if they put their mind to it. This is the first human trial ever that will be effectively done through crowdfunding, and people donating as little as $5 bucks at a time really ended up making a huge difference to the community.”
For more information on Zachary and his organization check out the action links below.