Potential HIV Cure Takes Center Stage at Annual IMPAACT Meeting

The International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Network held a leadership retreat this past in May, and attendees focused on the creation of a cure for HIV in infants and children


Last month in Washington D.C., then International Maternal Pediatric Adolescet AIDS Clinical Trials Network (IMPAACT) held its annual leadership retreat, bringing together maternal and child health-focused clinicians and scientists from around the world to discuss the most innovative solutions to health problems facing women and children.

The Network has several committees that develop and lead clinical protocols to test drugs, vaccines and therapies, and investigate drug treatments. The newest committee is the Cure Scientific Committee, chaired by Dr. Debbie Persaud, former Elizabeth Glaser Scientist Award winner and lead investigator on the recent 'Mississippi baby' study that achieved a functional cure in an HIV-infected infant.

At this year's meeting, the Cure Committee sponsored the first-ever strategy session focused on a cure for pediatric HIV, titled “Strategies towards a cure for HIV in infected children: focus on early therapy and functional cure.”  The day-long think tank's objectives were to lay the foundation for research that would lead to a pediatric HIV cure through developing an understanding of how the virus affects small children; the impact of early therapy on viral reservoirs, including in the central nervous system; and creating strategies towards achieving an HIV cure during acute and chronic infection of children and adolescents.

We heard from a dozen speakers on a range of topics, including a discussion entitled 'Developmental immunology of neonates and the implications for HIV latency' from Dr. David Lewis of Stanford. Latency is the scientific term for how HIV can hide away from immune system detection, and why it is such a difficult virus to beat. We also heard of plans from Dr. Yvonne Bryson of UCLA to replicate the functional cure achieved in the Mississippi baby in additional infants though a clinical trial of very early multiple-drug therapy in HIV-exposed infants.

Additionally, there was a panel discussion on the ethics of cure research in infants, and a session featuring input from the IMPAACT Community Advisory Board, comprised of members from affected communities where the network conducts clinical trials. Both of these discussions focused on the need to proceed as quickly as possible to take advantage of the recent breakthroughs, but also on the necessary caution mandated whenever children are involved in scientific research.

Ultimately, the meeting resulted in more clinicians and scientists focusing on cure research with a neonatal/pediatric perspective. This is a great step forward for the field, but now this progress must be supported with the sufficient funding needed to make the Mississippi baby case a reality for all HIV-exposed and infected infants around the world. The Foundation is committed to helping in this effort, and we have much to do!

Jeff Safrit, PhD is Director of Clinical and Basic research for the Foundation, based in Los Angeles, CA.