At a recent amFAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research) sponsored Congressional briefing* on AIDS research at NIH, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), described what he viewed as the three essential approaches in combating HIV/AIDS:
- controlling disease progression
- preventing new infections; and
- curing existing infections.
Antiretroviral therapy (ARV) is one of the most potent interventions available in medicine today and can significantly prolong a patient’s life. Continued expansion of ARV therapy, especially in the developing world, is essential to controlling disease progression and improving patient outcomes.
For a sustainable response to the pandemic, however, preventing new infections will be crucial. A significant focus of NIH funding supports vaccine development and treatment research (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, test & treat programs, and microbicides). Dr. Fauci cited the positive results of a vaccine trial last year as a significant first step towards developing an effective vaccine.
In the coming years, NIAID plans to continue investing in vaccine research to build on this preliminary success. The ability to cure existing infections would be an incredible breakthrough, but as Dr. Fauci mentioned, HIV is capable of hiding in the body making a true sterilizing cure very difficult to develop. Research is continuing, though, especially on so-called “functional cures” that wouldn’t completely eliminate the virus from the body but would prevent its proliferation and pathogenesis without the need for additional treatments.
While it is clear that a great deal of research funding is directed toward HIV vaccines and cures, NIH is also committed to researching new approaches in testing and treatment. It is estimated that 21% of HIV-infected individuals are unaware of their status. In efforts to expand testing, public health laboratories will continue to play an important role in the public health response to this pandemic.
*The briefing was held in collaboration with the offices of Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY). Thank you to those offices for their support.