Setting the Stage for an HIV Cure
Chip Lyons and Nick Hellmann
This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post on Feb. 3, 2014, you can read that post here.
Last week during his State of the Union address, President Obama asked Congress to “undo the damage done by last year's cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery.” We believe that discovery could be a cure for HIV/AIDS.
In the recently passed FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received a slight budget increase from post-sequestration 2013 levels, but it is still being funded at its lowest appropriated levels since 2008. Research led by the United States is critical to advancing the fight against HIV. As President Obama announced on World AIDS Day 2013, “the United States should be at the forefront of new discoveries into how to put HIV into long-term remission without requiring lifelong therapies — or, better yet, eliminate it completely.”
In the early days of the epidemic research focused mainly on keeping patients alive. Since then, scientists have developed incredible advancements; an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. HIV-positive people are living much longer, HIV-positive mothers can reliably have HIV-negative babies, and infection rates are decreasing significantly around the world. These developments are due in large part to the HIV/AIDS research efforts by the U.S. government through NIH, academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and non-governmental organizations such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF).
However, this progress does not make the situation any less dire, especially for the virus’ youngest victims. Efforts to treat pediatric HIV have lagged behind adult care and treatment since the epidemic began more than 30 years ago. New medications, especially those that are easier to administer and have fewer side effects, are not usually tested and approved for use in pediatric patients until many years after they become available to adult patients.
The most recent data show that only 34 percent of HIV-positive children had access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2012—approximately half of the coverage rate of adults. According to a recently released report from UNAIDS, 575 children are dying from HIV every single day. Without treatment, half of all infants with HIV infection will die before the age of two and 80 percent won’t survive to their fifth birthday.
The discovery of an HIV cure is an important goal for the 35 million people living with HIV globally, including the 260,000 children who are newly infected each year. Groundbreaking results reported in early 2013 provide strong evidence that, with additional research, a broadly available cure for HIV infection is within our reach. From reports of a cure in a baby living in Mississippi to managing HIV without antiretroviral drugs in 14 French adults–the stage is set for dramatic action.
Cure research is an essential step to keeping HIV positive children alive. It is imperative that children be included in the early stages of cure research and development, as we would not want to repeat the mistakes of the past by delaying the availability of a cure for children. Just as the recent success of adult HIV prevention research benefited greatly from earlier findings that virus transmission from a pregnant woman to her child could be readily prevented with ART, HIV cure studies in children can also prove valuable in advancing adult HIV cure research.
This is why President Obama’s political commitment is so important—expanded research into a cure for children and adults could be the catalyst that will allow us to see the end of AIDS within this lifetime.
Charles Lyons is president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and Nicholas Hellmann, M.D. is EGPAF’s executive vice president of medical and scientific affairs. To learn more about research and development efforts focused on pediatric HIV, visit www.pedaids.org.