Deborah Waterhouse: ‘HIV stigma remains, and it’s a battle we must fight’ | GlaxoSmithKline


A much has changed since the devastating AIDS crisis of the 1980s depicted on the Channel 4 television program It’s a sin — but the stigma attached to the disease remains, says Deborah Waterhouse. As CEO of ViiV Healthcare, a GlaxoSmithKline-controlled joint venture that develops HIV drugs, she leads one of the world’s largest commercial AIDS treatment developers.

“I remember in 1987 GSK brought out the first drug for HIV and at that time the life expectancy of someone living with HIV was 18 months,” he says. she. Observerspeaking via video link from his desk lined with novels, travel books and music at his home in Richmond, west London.

“Today, if you become HIV-positive, your life expectancy is the same as for someone who is not living with HIV. While science has created incredible treatments, the stigma has not evolved, and that’s a battle we must fight. It is a very stigmatized disease. We know that health systems do not always treat people living with HIV as they should.

Waterhouse led ViiV, one of GSK’s most successful businesses, for almost five years. It had a turnover of £4.9billion in 2020 but employs just 1,400 people compared to GSK’s 94,000. This week, GSK will release its 2021 results, which should show strong new sales for the HIV business. Its dolutegravir tablets are taken by 18 million people, including half of all people living with HIV.


Age 54

Family Married with two children.

Education Hamstead Hall Comprehensive School, Birmingham; English Literature and Economic History at the University of Liverpool.

Last holidays Somerset

The best advice she ever received “Having a global perspective is extremely valuable, so live and work in as many places around the world as possible.”

Biggest Career Mistake “Not realizing for many years that there is no way to perfectly juggle career, being a mother, daughter, friend and wife. Banish the guilt and ask yourself: have I done my better today?

Word/phrase she abuses “Can someone unpack the dishwasher, please?” »

how she relaxes “Spending time with my family and friends, traveling, reading and walking my dogs in Richmond Park.”

According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 million more people were infected with HIV in 2020, and almost half of them died, despite the commitment to end AIDS by 2030 .

In December, ViiV received the green light from the US health regulator for Apretude (cabotegravir), which is injected once every two months, as the world’s first prevention treatment for people at increased risk of contracting sexual HIV. Injections replace daily pills, allowing those affected to forget about the disease for a while. However, these drugs need to be kept in the refrigerator, which can be a challenge in countries like Malawi and South Africa.

The world’s first treatment for HIV and AIDS, zidovudine, was developed in the 1980s by Marty St Clair, a virologist at GSK’s predecessor company, Burroughs Wellcome, and his colleagues. When the drug was launched, Waterhouse, a butcher’s daughter who grew up on a housing estate in Birmingham, could not have dreamed of one day being at the forefront of HIV drug development. She was studying English Literature and Economic History at the University of Liverpool. After graduating, she moved into the automotive industry and became a marketing trainee with Jaguar Land Rover in the Midlands.

In 1996, she was recruited by Glaxo Wellcome (which merged with SmithKline Beecham to become GlaxoSmithKline in 2000). She then worked in the research and development branch of GSK for four years; moved to Melbourne to become managing director for Australia and New Zealand; returned to UK to lead Central and Eastern Europe, looking after 22 countries; then spent three years in Philadelphia, where she ran the US vaccines business and its primary care division. In April 2017, she took up her current position as Head of HIV Business and joined GSK’s management team three years later.

“I’ve always been interested in science, but that’s not what I chose to study,” says Waterhouse. “I worked in R&D for a few years, in early pipeline analysis and targeted drug profiling, and that’s what really helped me: the promise of a drug and how you can develop it , how you can imagine the impact on human health. .”

OThe interview takes place against the backdrop of GSK’s battle with aggressive activist shareholder Elliott Management, a New York-based hedge fund that emerged on the shareholder register last spring. He has called for changes, including asking GSK Chief Executive Emma Walmsley to reapply for her role, as the company prepares for the spin-off and IPO of its consumer healthcare arm. this summer.

Waterhouse strongly backs Walmsley (who appointed her to the top job at ViiV) as the right person to lead GSK after the split. “She has built an incredible team and the future of GSK is really bright. She is a fantastic leader.

Its own goal is to develop HIV drugs and contribute to GSK’s ambitious revenue target of £33 billion for 2031. ViiV is working on long-acting treatments that can be self-injected at home, while a potential “cure” for HIV is set to be tested on volunteers this year.

The cure ViiV is working on would remove the virus from any reservoirs in the body it hides in and kill any remaining virus cells, leaving people in remission so they can go one to three years without medication.

What is striking about ViiV is that seven of the ten members of the management team are women. Waterhouse hopes more women will move up the ladder, noting that more girls are choosing Stem subjects, even though these are still dominated by men. “We need to be much more inspiring and encouraging. It’s obvious to people now that Stem topics and technology/artificial intelligence are areas of the future.

Chip Lyons, chief executive of the nonprofit Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF), has worked closely with Waterhouse to provide effective HIV treatment to children born with the virus, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. He describes her as a “problem solver”.

When he first met her at a Vatican-organized consultation on pediatric HIV in 2017, he was struck by “the attentiveness with which she listened.” “Not only was she listening, but she was also feverishly texting her team, ‘Here’s what I think – can we do this?'”

Lyons says she and her company have never wavered from their commitment to fighting HIV in children, which is often overlooked. ViiV makes a version of dolutegravir for children, comprising a single strawberry-flavored dispersible tablet.

As for when the HIV epidemic will end, Waterhouse says his team “talks a lot about it.” It predicts a significant reduction in new infections during this decade. However, South Africa faces the largest HIV epidemic by far, and Covid-19 has led to a drop in HIV testing, diagnostics and treatment in many countries.

“The HIV epidemic is unlikely to end until the late 2040s, but it is on the horizon,” says Waterhouse. “As a staunch supporter of science, I sincerely believe that we will find an ultimate cure, but it will still take a few decades before we get there.”


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