NIH to increase funding toward a cure for HIV/AIDS

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The White House marked the 25th annual World AIDS Day on Dec. 2 with an announcement that the National Institutes of Health will redirect funds to expand support for research directed toward a cure for HIV.

The NIH plans to invest an additional $100 million over the next three fiscal years on this increasingly promising area of HIV/AIDS research, according to an announcement from the White House.

In the three decades since AIDS was first reported, NIH-funded researchers, in partnership with academia and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, have helped develop more than 30 life-saving antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations for treating HIV infection.The antiretroviral drugs have transformed life with HIV infection for those who have access to and can tolerate the therapies. However, treatment requires lifelong access and adherence to the medications and management of treatment-related toxicities.

Important recent advances in basic and therapeutics research aimed at eliminating viral reservoirs in the body are spurring scientists to design and conduct research aimed at a cure or lifelong remission of HIV infection. Scientists have concluded that developing a cure for HIV is one of the most important biomedical challenges of the 21st century.

During the White House event marking World AIDS Day, which officially was on Dec. 1, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, discussed the public health and scientific rationale for expanded research in the quest for a cure.

"The development of a cure is critically important, as it may not be feasible for tens of millions of people living with HIV infection to access and adhere to a lifetime of antiretroviral therapy," he said. "Our growing understanding of the cellular hiding places or ‘reservoirs’ of HIV, the development of new strategies to minimize or deplete these reservoirs, and encouraging reports of a small number of patients who have little or no evidence of virus despite having halted antiretroviral therapy, all suggest that the time is ripe to pursue HIV cure research with vigor."

Funding for new initiatives will come from existing resources and a redirection of funds from expiring AIDS research grants over the next three years. NIH director Francis S. Collins, stated in a news release from the White House, “Flat budgets and cuts from sequestration have had a profound and damaging impact on biomedical research, but we must continue to find ways to support cutting-edge science, even in this environment. AIDS research is an example of an area where hard-won progress over many years has resulted in new and exciting possibilities in basic and clinical science in AIDS that must be pursued.”

Jack Whitescarver, Ph.D., director of the Office of AIDS Research, added, “We have listened very carefully to the scientific consensus of experts from within the NIH and around the world. We have been building the portfolio of HIV cure research over the past few years, and now is the time to accelerate our research focused specifically toward the goal of sustained or lifelong remission, in which patients control or even eliminate HIV without the need for lifelong antiretroviral therapy.”

It is anticipated that a significant portion of the new investment will support basic research, which will also benefit all other areas of AIDS research, as well as research on other diseases. These studies will include research on viral reservoirs, viral latency and viral persistence, as well as studies of neutralizing antibodies. Research on animal models, drug development and preclinical testing of more potent antiretroviral compounds capable of diminishing viral reservoirs, and clinical research, including studies on therapeutic vaccines and other immune enhancers, will also be supported.