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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

January 31, 2022 by Anna Kovacevich

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Last week, IAVI and Moderna announced that the first doses have been administered in a clinical trial of experimental HIV vaccine antigens delivered through mRNA technology. The phase 1 clinical trial, IAVI G002, is testing the hypothesis that administration of priming and boosting HIV immunogens delivered via mRNA technology can induce specific classes of B-cell responses and guide their early maturation toward broadly neutralizing antibody (bnAb) development. Inducing bnAbs via B-cells is widely acknowledged as a goal of HIV vaccination. The immunogens being tested were developed by scientific teams at IAVI and Scripps Research and will be delivered with Moderna’s mRNA technology.

Global funding for poverty-related and neglected diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, remained virtually unchanged in 2020 at US$3.937 billion, according to the 14th annual G-FINDER report released by Policy Cures Research. The report—a comprehensive analysis of global investment of research and development for poverty-related and neglected diseases—showed a small decrease of $172 million, or 4 percent, in funding from 2019 to 2020, yet 2020 was still the third highest funding level for neglected diseases ever captured by G-FINDER data. The report identified other trends and insights, including the continued stagnation of funding for neglected tropical diseases, an increase in philanthropic funding and investment in platform technologies, and disruptions in clinical trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cancer drug pembrolizumab can flush HIV out of its hiding spot in immune cells, which could help eliminate the virus in its latent stage, according to a new study published Wednesday. Currently, antiretroviral therapy—the standard treatment for HIV—can remove any trace of the virus from the blood, but a hidden reservoir of HIV persists in patients who are in treatment, meaning patients are never truly cured and must be on HIV drugs for the rest of their lives. The new study examined 32 patients that had both cancer and HIV and found that pembrolizumab, which revives the immune system and encourages it to attack tumors, also helps the immune system locate the last traces of HIV and disrupts the virus’ ability to hide. While these findings present an early proof of concept, researchers plan to continue additional studies to assess the drug’s impact at different dosing levels in HIV-positive patients without cancer.

About the author

Anna KovacevichGHTC

Anna Kovacevich is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.