Although the United States presidential election dominated the news headlines, 2012 has been a year synonymous with elections around the world. Within the AIDS Clinical Trials Group Network, the Global Community Advisory Board held its election of a new co-chair this August to replace outgoing member Don MacIver, New York University Clinical Research Site (NYU CRS). During the Network’s final community session in July, Paul Klees tossed his hat into the ring.
“There was only one nomination for GCAB Co-Chair, so I decided to run not only for the good of the democratic process, but because I knew I could do a good job with Don’s guidance and Sharon’s help,” says Klees, who hails from the ACTG’s University of California at San Francisco AIDS CRS.
Sharon Maxwell, University of Washington, St. Louis CRS, served with MacIver and now with Klees as GCAB Co-Chair.
“Immediately after being elected co-chair, Paul jumped right in, reading all the material, bylaws and familiarizing himself with the call schedules,” says Maxwell. “By the time the first conference call came up, Paul was ready to lead on the call.”
As a person living with HIV, Klees has been active with the UCSF CAB for about two years – nine months as a CAB member before being asked to be his local CAB’s representative to the GCAB. He says involvement at the CAB level includes attending monthly meetings and is a commitment of about three to four hours a month.
The structure of the GCAB is similar to the local CABs, but the work being done at the GCAB-level has a broader reach, Klees says. GCAB members participate in monthly conference calls with members from ACTG sites around the world and discuss reports coming out of the Network’s many subcommittees.
“You get to see the ACTG from a higher up perspective and interact with members on four continents,” Klees says. “It’s an incredible group of activists, scientists and human beings. We meet once a year at the Network meeting each July in DC. It’s so rewarding and fulfilling to be the San Francisco GCAB representative, and now, GCAB Co-Chair.”
Living in San Francisco now, where the Castro District became the epicenter for HIV in the 1980s, inspired Klees to run for the GCAB Co-Chair opening in July.
“San Francisco is a unique city in that it has the corner on the market for hospitals, physicians and HIV support,” Klees says, “Yet with all that medical, scientific and bureaucratic structure, our CAB operates on a more informal basis, that is, we don’t use the Rules of Order. We do it in our own way here.”
When it comes to his two-year term as GCAB Co-Chair and the areas he would like to tackle while in office, Klees sees procedural, lingual and scientific priorities. When the Community Scientific Subcommittee (CSS) of the GCAB held elections this summer, Klees says the bylaws, charter and standard operating procedures (SOPs) did not align, making the election process harder than necessary.
“We should measure twice and cut once instead of 60 measures cut 50 times like we had to do with this most recent CSS election,” he says. “So I will put together a little report for editing the SOPs.”
And speaking of all those acronyms like SOPs, CSS and GCAB, Klees would like to see an easier vernacular so that all of the breakthroughs being made are not lost in the alphabet soup.
“The lexicon and syntax we use within the ACTG is constantly evolving,” Klees says. “We need to cut the chaff and get to the germ of the thing we are actually talking about to give people an accurate snapshot of what we’ve done and where we are going.”
Looking ahead to the future involves Klees’ third and final GCAB term priority – scientific exploration into HIV, aging and neurology. Klees holds a degree in theater arts and worked as a TV producer for Warners Bros. in LA, but grew up in a household with a scientist father. Now done with TV, his upbringing and diagnosis has made him a self-proclaimed “neurologist-wannabe.”
“Neurology needs to be number one because the brain and the spine develop at the same time; our whole being is tied to them from the moment we’re in the womb,” Klees says. “I follow ACTG researcher Serena Spudich, MD, Yale University School of Medicine. She is working on a study about the long term effects of HIV on cerebral spinal fluid.”
Currently in his late-40s, Klees also understands the importance of HIV and aging as it relates not only to neurology, but also to the broad spectrum of ages impacted by HIV. “I’m not the only 46-year-old out there with HIV,” he says. “We are managing HIV and living longer. There is also young people and HIV to consider as well because HIV impacts youth’s organs and reservoirs differently. Both the older and younger patients’ physiology is completely different and needs to be studied.”
And as people living with HIV live longer, Klees hopes they will also consider taking on a larger role within the ACTG whether it be as a clinical trial participant, a member of their local CAB, their CAB’s representative to the GCAB, or eventually replacing him and Sharon as GCAB Co-Chairs someday.
“I’m so impressed and proud to be a part of the ACTG and I call for more participation because Sharon will step down in 2013,” Klees says. “We need an active electorate. I think every GCAB rep. should become co-chair because the more involved you are yourself, the better the ACTG Network is as a whole.”