July 22, 2012

AIDS 2012: A resounding call for research

Communications Officer

On the second day of the XIX International AIDS Conference, the need for a host of new tools to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS has already made it to the forefront of the agenda. Of particular note has been the resounding call for a vaccine to prevent HIV, with leading policymakers, scientists, and advocates saying that the world will never reach the end of AIDS without this powerful tool. In a session that focused on improving the effectiveness and efficacy in the HIV/AIDS response, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that a vaccine is desperately needed to help make a sizable dent in the pandemic.

Graham’s call for a vaccine was echoed by Bill Gates from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The “ultimate tool” in the fight against HIV/AIDS “will be a vaccine,” Gates said, adding that the US government has been the largest supporter of efforts to develop and vaccine “by far.” He also said that microbicide gels and rings will be powerful prevention products. Without a number of these new tools, the world cannot “talk seriously about moving toward the end” of the pandemic. “We will get these tools, but only if we stay the course.”

Later in the afternoon, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and Jon Cohen from Science magazine chaired a panel that looked at what lies ahead in HIV/AIDS science. Gary Nabel, director of the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center, said “we’ve never been in a more exciting position” in the search for an HIV/AIDS vaccine. He added that recent discoveries related to broadly neutralizing antibodies over the past two years have made HIV vaccine research “like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”

When sharing their hopes for the status of HIV/AIDS research, several panelists also stressed the urgent need to develop new HIV prevention and treatment options. Nabel said that by 2020, he expects researchers will be “in the midst of efficacy trials for an HIV vaccine candidate.” Robert Siliciano of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine stressed that by 2020, scientists will be leading clinical trials for new drugs that attack HIV reservoirs. And Dawn Averitt-Bridge of the Well Project said that by 2020, she hopes the world has effective microbicides to prevent HIV, a functional cure for the disease, and that “research makes it into the lives of the people and families we all care so much about.”

Cohen ended the session with a call for young people to become the “next generation of scientists” leading HIV/AIDS research. “I’m looking to the young people, because that’s where the revolution is going to happen.”

Kim Lufkin is the GHTC’s communications officer.