First Worldwide AIDS Conferences with Hoffman LaRoche

Roche Diagnostic

Background: In 1991, basketball legend Magic Johnson announced in a press conference that he was infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS. As a result, most people thought that he would be dead within a few years at best.

DeeterUSA was honored and proud to play a role in spreading the hopeful news about a new process discovered in 1983 called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that could quickly replicate one piece of DNA millions of times within a few hours. This scientific breakthrough was used to do cutting-edge testing that would revolutionize technology to give hope to those living with HIV/AIDS and other diseases such as hepatitis C. The hope was that their disease could be more effectively managed.

PCR testing also brought great change in other areas. For example, in criminal cases, it enabled the identification of bodies via DNA. Similarly, quick, effective testing for specific drugs would prove especially useful in professional sports and for physicians treating patients in hospital emergency rooms.


Client: At the time, DeeterUSA was working with Hoffman La-Roche and its divisions Roche Diagnostics and Roche Molecular Diagnostics. In 1991, Roche acquired the rights to the PCR process and committed to continually improving it, making it a standard tool used in biological testing.

Roche Molecular Diagnostics became one of the first companies to introduce PCR testing with the launch of the Amplicor testing system. Amplicor offered the ability to detect and quantify the amount of HIV (or viral load) present in a patient’s body from a small blood sample.


Opportunity/Challenge: With diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV infection, viral load can be a good indicator of how well a patient’s medication and treatment is working. Armed with this information, physicians can quickly adapt and tailor treatment programs based on individual patient responses to specific medicines.

During this timeframe, new AIDS drugs and combinations, sometimes called “cocktails,” were being introduced and used in research trials with patients. The capability provided via the Amplicor test system to quickly and cost-effectively monitor a patient’s viral load vastly improved the outlook for HIV/AIDS patients. Physicians could get test results (even within a few hours) to get an indication of how well a patient’s medication was working. If need be, the physician could switch to another medication right away, vastly improving the patient’s chances of finding the right combination to help control disease progression.

It was critical for the word to get to infectious disease physicians and the AIDS community in the United States and Europe about the improved outlook for AIDS patients offered via incorporation of PCR testing into disease management regimens. During the same timeframe, AIDS activist groups were heavily criticizing pharmaceutical companies regarding the cost of medications, so it was imperative for people to know about the benefits of the work Roche Molecular was doing to help this situation with accurate, convenient, cost-effective PCR testing.


Strategy/What DeeterUSA Did: DeeterUSA set to work throughout the mid- to late-1990s, partnering with Roche Molecular Diagnostics and a London-based public relations agency to rapidly and effectively spread the hopeful news. The Deeter team did extensive related research, writing, and editing to develop press kits and other communications materials explaining the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and improved treatment results offered via the Amplicor testing system.

Deeter team members traveled extensively around the globe to spread the word, playing an instrumental supporting role at a number of the world’s first international AIDS conferences, many held in Europe. Deeter delivered science-based information and materials, served as liaison with patient advocate groups, and guided Hoffman La Roche on how to best support HIV/AIDS patient organizations.

After each conference, DeeterUSA continued in pivotal communications functions, distilling scientific information into summaries and other materials to make relevant PCR testing information easily understandable and useful for the greater AIDS community. This included infectious disease physicians, healthcare media and trade journal representatives, pharmaceutical sales teams, as well as activist and support groups and patients.


Results:  DeeterUSA’s communication efforts played a significant part in spreading the word about PCR testing and helping it become an integral tool for physicians worldwide in tailoring HIV/AIDS treatment regimens for the needs of individual patients. Hoffman La Roche has continuously evolved its PCR testing to what it is today – an innovative, Nobel-prize winning technology enabling clinicians to diagnose infectious disease, viral load, and particular strains of HIV to better manage disease progression.

AIDS and hepatitis C have gone from diseases that were once almost invariably fatal to what are now relatively manageable healthcare situations – an amazing development evidenced by the fact that Magic Johnson is still with us today, nearly 25 years after announcing his HIV diagnosis.

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