It’s not every day that a pharma company caps off a conference with an online cabaret hosted by a drag queen, but then again, GlaxoSmithKline’s HIV-focused venture ViiV Healthcare is always looking to do something different to better communicate with its audience.
ViiV’s 2020 Community Summit took place virtually last week, while its Youth Summit, founded in 2014 to engage youth activists in the HIV community, took place the week before.
The cabaret “Constellations of Change” was live-streamed on Facebook Thursday, hosted by drag queen Ongina, best known for appearing multiple times on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The event was a mix of music, dance and poetry—both fun and serious in tone—all performed and presented by people in the HIV community.
The cabaret was born of the virtual nature of this year’s summit to connect with people in a different way. Typically, the summit would be a closed group meeting in one city, but this year’s event, while still closed, allowed them to open up the final celebration to anyone who was interested, Marc Meachem, ViiV’s head of external affairs for North America, said.
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ViiV has previously created other cultural events to connect with its audience, including the current “Being Seen” podcast and the award-winning theatrical performance “As Much As I Can.” The relationship between the community and the company is very entwined, Meachem said.
“I think that the biggest thing in being successful [is] we’ve had this authenticity. People can tell if you’re not authentic in your outreach, in your approach and your concern in your work,” he said. “The times we’re in, I think everybody needs more connection now.”
“[B]eing able to bring people together in a different way that celebrates both the wins and the joys, and then also the struggles, is just a wonderful way to connect,” he added.
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ViiV’s Community Summit began in 1998 as way to educate the companies and the activists involved the HIV epidemic. “Companies needed to be educated about HIV and about the lives of people who were affected by HIV, (and) the activists needed to be educated about the drug development process and the regulatory process,” Meachem said.
Meachem has attended 15 of the 22 summits and watched the group grow from a small gathering of similar-looking people to today’s group, made up of people of all ages, ethnicities and gender expressions.
Usually held in person, this year’s summit was virtual because of COVID-19 restrictions, but no less effective or important, he said.
ViiV markets HIV treatments including Dovato, Juluca and Triumeq. It’s also working toward HIV prevention. The GSK unit recently reported positive PrEP data for its bi-monthly injectable med cabotegravir. The company plans to file for an FDA approval for the drug in the first half of 2021.