May 06, 2019

Research Roundup: Study finds drugs stop HIV transmission, polio endgame strategy includes new technologies and vaccines, and FDA approves first ever vaccine for dengue fever

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Wendy Stone

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A landmark study found that men whose HIV infection was fully suppressed by antiretroviral drugs had no chance of infecting their partner—suggesting that if everyone with HIV were fully treated, there would be no further infections. Of the nearly 1,000 male couples across Europe who participated in the study, in which one partner with HIV was receiving treatment to suppress the virus, there were no cases of transmission of the infection to the HIV-negative partner during sex without a condom. According to Professor Alison Rodger, co-leader of the paper published in The Lancet, these findings “provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART [antiretroviral therapy] is zero” and that the study’s findings “support the message of the international U=U campaign that an undetectable viral load makes HIV untransmittable.”

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) unveiled a new five-year strategy on Tuesday, which includes the use of novel oral polio vaccines—several of which are being developed by PATH and its partners—as well as the adoption of smartphone technologies to assist in disease surveillance and faster response. GPEI is also planning to establish a regional hub in Amman, Jordan to allow for easier coordination and increased technical support for polio vaccination programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, two polio-endemic countries. Additionally, as part of the new strategy, GPEI is expanding its partnership with development institutions such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. These new approaches, among others, will be implemented by GPEI under its new strategy from 2019-2023 in the hopes that this new strategy will be its last, with wild poliovirus successfully eliminated by 2023. The new strategy is currently facing a funding gap of US$3.27 billion, which organizers hope to fill with a pledging conference in November.

On Wednesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first vaccine against dengue fever. The vaccine, Dengvaxia, has generated much controversy in recent months due to post-marketing research performed by its manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, which showed that the vaccine offers protection for people who have already had at least one bout of dengue, but increases the risk of severe infection in children who were dengue-naïve, or never infected when they were vaccinated. The FDA ruled that Dengvaxia can only be administered to individuals between the ages of 9-16 living in parts of the United States where the dengue virus is endemic, and that it can only be given to children and young adults who had one previous laboratory-confirmed case of dengue. Identifying these individuals with prior infection is currently a challenge, because there is no point-of-care diagnostic test available, though Sanofi officials say they have to have one ready for FDA submission by late 2020. Sanofi will earn a priority review voucher (PRV) by bringing Dengvaxia to market. A PRV is an incentive created to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases and, in exchange, allows a company to expedite the review of another product it wants to bring to market or sell the voucher to another company.