A team of international scientists say the prospects for finding a cure for AIDS in the near future are realistic, after unveiling a roadmap to cure the disease in Washington overnight. Major investments in science have resulted in the worldwide availability of over 20 anti-HIV drugs. Despite these successes, these therapies have limitations. They do not eradicate HIV, requiring people to remain on expensive and potentially toxic drugs for life. The new roadmap to cure is intent on ending this suffering.
In what organisers are calling a first, scientists have come up with a coordinated plan to tackle AIDS since the disease was discovered 31 years ago. Over the past two years the International AIDS Society – IAS – has convened a group of international experts to develop a roadmap for research towards an HIV cure. Published online in an abridged form tomorrow, Friday July 20, in Nature Reviews Immunology, Towards an HIV Cure identifies seven important priority areas for basic, translational and clinical research and maps out a path for future research collaboration and funding opportunities.(
Approximately 34 million people around the world are HIV positive, and in 2010 more than 21,000 Australians were living with HIV infection ::::
Announced at the Inaugural Global Scientific Strategy Towards an HIV Cure launched ahead of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington DC ,the vision for the IAS strategy for an HIV cure is very clear: a safe, affordable and scalable cure will improve the health and quality-of-life for those with established infection, reduce the risk of transmission of virus to those not infected, and ultimately allow resources to be shifted to other needs.
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who won a Nobel prize for her part in identifying human immunodeficiency virus, is co-chair of the International Working Group Towards an HIV Cure, which released its proposed steps toward a cure overnight.
“It’s a first step,” Dr Sinoussi said, adding that the next step will be determining the cost-effectiveness of the strategy.
That work will begin in conjunction with the International Aids Society’s 2012 conference, which runs from July 22-27 in Washington.
Professor Sharon Lewin, the director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, says Australian scientists will also be actively involved in researching for a cure.
“Françoise really gathered together 34 of scientists who develop what they thought would be a roadmap to finding a cure for HIV,” she said.
“The process has involved extensive consultation with community, with governments, with funders, with regulatory bodies and other parties that will need to collaborate to eventually find a cure.”
According to Professor Lewin, the research will look at how the virus persists and where it hides.
Scientists will also need to understand immune system function in HIV-infected patients and determine whether inflammation is playing a role in protecting the virus.
Other teams will need to determine why some patients develop antibodies to the virus, allowing them to control the infection, and whether this can be applied to the search for a cure.
“One approach is to essentially wake the virus up using drugs that turn the sleeping virus back on,” she said.
“At the Alfred [Hospital] we are doing a clinical trial of a drug that does exactly that in the test tube, and now we’re asking whether it can have that effect in patients.”
Challenging road ahead
Since the AIDS epidemic started 31 years ago, scientists have made great strides in treating the disease.
AIDS-related deaths worldwide fell to 1.7 million last year from some 1.8 million in 2010, according to the latest report from United Nations AIDS program (UNAIDS).
Cocktails of powerful HIV drugs can keep the infection at bay for years, but the virus is wily, weaving itself into the DNA of special immune system cells, where it can lie dormant and out of reach of medications.
That makes it necessary for HIV patients to take drugs over a lifetime.
As a result of better access to treatment, more patients with HIV are living near-normal lives, but the numbers of patients needing drugs is rising, increasing the future costs of AIDS treatment.
Professor Lewin said the battle against HIV/AIDS has had a number of setbacks.
“The first challenge… was simply to find a way to stop people dying. We’ve definitely found that and people now enjoy a very good quality of life,” she said.
“The second big challenge has been getting drugs to people who need them. We’ve also done a pretty good job of that with now over 6 million people in low income countries getting anti-retroviral treatment.
“I think we have been fighting the battle on many fronts and this is really the next great challenge, and it has come at the right time.”
pdf: towards an hiv cure
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