Durban, SOUTH AFRICA – The cure for HIV isn’t here yet, and may not come in a package everyone is expecting or desire it to be in. This is according to experts who’ve been working with finding cure for HIV, stressed here at the International AIDS Conference 2016.
In a press conference focusing on the global scientific strategy towards an HIV cure, Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health said that “I can’t tell you when (there will be cure for HIV) definitely because I can’t tell you if we can have a cure.”
This is because – as long observed – of latent HIV reservoir [i.e. for PLHIVs, there are CD4 cells (or other cells) that are infected with HIV but not actively producing HIV]; and “the body does not provide adequate response against HIV,” Fauci said.
This is also why “finding a cure is an aspirational goal,” said Sharon Lewin, co-chair of Towards an HIV Cure Symposium. The more immediate goal now is for “remission”.
There are efforts, all the same, to find this cure, as “a good news is that we now have people working on this,” Fauci said.
Steven Deeks, co-chair of Towards an HIV Cure Symposium, added that there are already findings related to this that are worth highlighting. For instance, “we learned that if we’re going to cure people, it’s better if people have low viral load and better immune system.” Since the two can be done by antiretroviral medicines, so “the goal now is immediate treatment.”
Studies involving children are also providing needed information on developing a vaccine. Jintanat Ananworanich, co-author of the Global Scientific Strategy, said that approximately 600 children get infected with HIV per day; and one in three die before they reach the age of one year old if they are left untreated. However, as is often the case in children, “we know their HIV exposure, and by (being able to diagnose) early, then we can treat them early, again to get them to remission,” Ananworanich said.
Ananworanich added that children have naïve immune system, and can grow more CD4 than adults, which could serve them well in studies in finding vaccines that, in turn, could help develop the cure.
And so, while “finding a cure is not impossible, it’s not an easy task,” Fauci said.
Even as the cure is not yet here, and with studies still being done to find ways to “chronically eliminate viral load rebound,” Giulio Maria Corbelli of the European AIDS Treatment Group said that “big expectations d not mean researchers throw away ethics.” As a person living with HIV, he reiterated that the search for cure should be safe, fair, inclusive, collaborative, affordable and transparent.
“So we have all the challenges in implementing treatment for (over) 35 million living with HIV globally,” Corbelli said to Outrage Magazine. “But I don’t think we have to choose. Access to treatment is also important. But it’s not an either/or. We need to scale treatment. But we also need approaches – and curative approach is just as important.”
Corbelli is cognizant that most experts are not necessarily pointing at finding complete cure, but he believes that “if ever complete cure is achievable, we will reach it after the remission. Let’s consider this (remission) as a first step. Then aim to go further.”
In 2015, approximately $201.8 million was invested in cure research, which is 25% higher than the $160.8 million invested in 2014. Majority of the investments ($187.7 million) came from the public sector, with $14.73 million invested by philanthrophies like amfAR, CANFAR, Fair Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Wellcome Trust.