Research Roundup: 2017 HIV and AIDS R&D edition
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
The dapivirine ring—a monthly vaginal ring that releases the antiretroviral dapivirine (ARV)—was shown to be effective in girls younger than 18 in a phase 2a clinical trials. Developers of the product are currently seeking approval for the ring’s use in women ages 18–45, but health professionals want to expand the targeted age group to teenagers ages 15–17. Researchers conducted this initial trial on female teenagers in the United States and found positive results. Not only was the tool safe and effective in delivering ARVs into the females’ bloodstreams, it was also deemed easy to use and enjoyable to use by over 90 percent of participants. Next steps include conducting a study on teenage girls in Africa.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, partnered to create an HIV vaccine candidate to protect against multiple strains of HIV at once. Scientists used a mosaic technique—patching together several strains of HIV and looping them together into one vaccine—and initial studies suggest this vaccine is promising. Participants in an early study handled the vaccine well, and blood results suggested the participants had an adequate immune response to the vaccine. While these results are promising, NIAID stressed that these are preliminary results and more testing is necessary. This marks the fifth time an HIV vaccine has reached clinical trials in humans. Three of these approaches were abandoned because of low efficacy in later trials, while the other trial remains ongoing.
As the fight against HIV and AIDS continues, there is still much to be done. Health professionals fear a second HIV and AIDS pandemic as HIV drug resistance rises, manufacturing capability is maxed out, and funding from major donors falls. It is expected that 54 million individuals globally will be living with HIV by 2030, requiring a massive supply of front-line medicines and second-line therapies for the estimated 10 percent of cases where HIV is resistant to front-line treatment. Sites responsible for manufacturing and producing front-line HIV medications have limited ability to expand further, and expanding production sites to endemic areas of Africa is limited due to inadequate infrastructure. Finally, funding sources are becoming increasingly more scarce. As the White House focuses capital on domestic issues and donor funding decreases, researchers fear the lack of funding necessary to conduct important HIV and AIDS research in the future.