People looked at me like I was crazy. “Why are you giving a cancer drug to someone who doesn’t have cancer?” And the answer was, “Well, if you do it carefully and monitor them, you can shut off, selectively, the aberrant immune response without necessarily shutting off the immune response that protects you against a variety of infections.” That’s really what I was doing very successfully, and I became probably prematurely well known because of that, for a period of time for around — I would say nine years or so. And just as a stroke of fate, I always had this nagging feeling about wanting to do something that is involved fundamentally in infectious diseases, that involved things that were broadly impacting globally.
And then, almost like a quirk of fate, I was duly trained as an immunologist, which now I had been doing immunology — clinical immunology — for a while. I was clearly a very board-certified and accomplished infectious disease person. And then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, in 1981, comes a disease that is clearly an infectious disease that’s impacting the immune system like — we’ve never seen anything like it. But how can you have an infectious disease that actually attacks the immune system?
We didn’t know it at the time, but that’s when I made a dramatic sea change in my career, and I said, “I’ve been very well accomplished for the past nine years, doing these very interesting things with autoimmune inflammatory diseases, and now we have this group of people — strangely, virtually all gay men — who are presenting with a disease that looks, smells, and acts like an infectious disease, and it’s destroying their immune system. What the hell is going on here?