Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vienna Cure Report from Project Inform

One of the standing-room-only sessions on HIV cure research at the Vienna AIDS Conference. There were also dozens of people watching the session on a closed-circuit TV set up outside the door. Photo Credit: AIDS Policy Project
We are inviting a few guest bloggers who are also interested in AIDS cure research to post on our Cure Blog. Matt Sharp, a longtime AIDS activist, is the first. --Kate Krauss, AIDS Policy Project

The road to a cure for HIV, by Matt Sharp
There continues to be excitement and buzz especially in the research community regarding more understanding of the pathway to a cure for HIV. Recently, an NIH collaborative grant for cure research named in honor of Martin Delaney was announced that will provide even more federal dollars to the effort—though not enough. Advocates are scaling up their knowledge and working with the important players to lead to the most direct research path to a cure. There was an exciting workshop before the Vienna conference entitled: Towards a Cure: HIV Reservoirs and Strategies to Control Them. And while the efforts are moving in the right direction, there is a way to go to unlocking critical basic scientific and practical questions that scientists have long pondered, such as: Why there is residual virus and how is it causing long-term inflammation that eventually leads to the cause of most mortality seen in AIDS today? What are the biological keys to unlocking these problems? How can scientists work better together in a focused effort for a cure? How will studies ethically allow for cure research in people who are doing well?

Sharon Lewin from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia gave a succinct and motivating opening plenary speech stating that even treating the current 40% of HIV-positive people in low- and middle-income countries starting at the CD4 threshold of 200 cells would cost $25 billion by 2030, while increasing coverage to 80% would raise that cost to $35 billion. We cannot treat ourselves out of the epidemic as current cost projections and universal access and sustainability are improbable. She said that “while there won’t be a cure announced in Vienna, it will mark the future where we seriously prioritize finding a cure”.

Finding a cure is the new wave of HIV research and knowledge in this area is growing at every HIV meeting. Pharmaceutical companies have teams of scientists focusing on new drug targets and are screening millions of candidates that will flush HIV out of cells. Some two dozen HDAC inhibitors (histone deacetylase) are being studied to activate latent virus for these cells. Some of these compounds are also being studied in cancer. IL-7 can also activate cells and is moving forward in Phase 2 clinical studies. This is one area of eradication research that is moving ahead that many are not aware is happening.

Lessons are being learned from the Berlin “cure” patient who received a bone marrow transplant for lymphoma using HIV resistant cells. He remains free of HIV today. Several cell therapy strategies rendering HIV resistant by genetic manipulation are already in clinical studies.

Project Inform's full Vienna report is here.

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