STAT, January 8, 2019
Apoorva Mandavili, with photos by Michael Starghill Jr.


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[...] Vergel, 59, attributes most of these conditions to his low CD4 count, a key marker of immune function in HIV-positive people. He is what’s known as an immunologic non-responder (INR) — someone whose immune system does not rebound even after years of antiretroviral therapy. There are tens of thousands of these non-responders in the U.S., whose low CD4 numbers put them at much higher risk of heart attacks, stroke, cancers, secondary infections such as tuberculosis, and death. And yet, drug companies and researchers aren’t actively pursuing new treatments that would boost their immunity, leaving people like Vergel feeling neglected.

“The field is moving on, to be honest with you,” he told STAT. Vergel and a group of other HIV/AIDS activists are hoping to change that, by drawing attention to their situation and persuading the Food and Drug Administration to grant non-responders orphan disease status. [...]

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