UCLA Researcher Strives to Improve ART

Jan 01, 1970

Eric Daar, MD, remembers completing his infectious diseases fellowship at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles
during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

“Cedars-Sinai Medical Center was the hub of the HIV epidemic in Los Angeles,” he says. “During that time, I witnessed how devastating this disease was to a population of people that were my peers. It was too big a problem to ignore and way too interesting not to be intrigued. HIV also represented an extraordinary opportunity to get involved in something that was new
and for which there was an enormous amount of work to be done in order to move the field forward.”

Daar eventually became the Chief of Infectious Diseases at Cedars-Sinai. In 2001, he accepted the position as Chief of HIV Medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. The medical center is a research site with the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network. For the past 13 years, Daar has been an investigator with the ACTG, specializing in antiretroviral studies and serving a Clinical Research Site Leader. He is Chair of the Network’s Antiretroviral Strategies subcommittee and a member of the ACTG’s Scientific Agenda Steering Committee.

“I was co-chair of A5202, which was a mammoth study that along with substudy A5224s provided invaluable information to inform the treatment decisions for first-line therapy,” he says. “This study utilized all the resources of the ACTG and pulled together people with a broad range of expertise to address multiple scientific questions.”

The studies identified the most effective combination of anti-HIV medications for people living with HIV who had never been on treatment. The substudy assessed how the different medications affected bone mineral density and fat. Paul Sax, MD, is the Clinical Research Site Leader at the ACTG’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital site in Boston. He was co-chair of study A5202 with Daar.

“Dr. Eric Daar combines all of the optimal characteristics of a successful clinical researcher – he is scientifically curious, understands what makes a good research question, meticulous about details and extremely supportive of other members of the research team,” says Sax. “In addition, he has an uncanny ability to resolve areas of disagreement that may arise between individuals working on the same project, all with the goal of moving the project forward!”

In Los Angeles, Daar says his HIV clinic treats predominately Hispanic and African American men who have sex with men (MSM) and Hispanic and African American women who have sex with men. Judith Currier, MD, MSc, is the ACTG’s Vice Chair and the Principal Investigator of the University of California Los Angeles AIDS Prevention and Treatment Clinical Trials Unit (CTU). Daar’s site is part of this CTU.

“I consider it a privilege to be able to work with Eric Daar both in the UCLA CTU and within the leadership of the ACTG,” says Currier. “He is an accomplished investigator, a skilled leader and a wonderful friend. He has the ability to see the big picture, but at the same time he has the attention to detail that is essential for research at every step along the way. He is beloved and respected by everyone in the LA community for his commitment to clinical service and education.”

In addition to conducting research and caring for patients, Daar also works with his site’s Community Advisory Board (CAB). Each ACTG site has a CAB made up of people affected and infected by HIV. CAB members provide researchers with feedback about studies and assist with community outreach.

“I am very involved with our CAB and meet with them on a monthly basis,” says Daar. “They are invaluable in defining what are the highest priority questions for the community as well as providing insight into study design to optimize enrollment and strategies to enhance patient participation in specific studies.”

Reflecting on his career investigating HIV, Daar is impressed with the strides research has made thus far.

“Going from a time where the research focus was on optimizing therapy to defining how to minimize long-term toxicity and now characterizing and strategizing how to manage some of these conditions is exciting,” he says. “We are now focused on research opportunities to manage unique conditions such as persistent neurocognitive deficits in people with suppressed viral loads and developing studies to address retention in care as well as the possibility of a cure. It is hard not to be excited with a field where there is a constant evolution of what are the highest priority scientific questions.”