Prevention Innovations Featured at Global HIV Science Meeting
New science surrounding HIV vaccines and other prevention interventions move to center stage at the 9th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Science, taking place July 23-26 in Paris. The world’s largest open scientific meeting on HIV and AIDS is expected to attract more than 6,000 delegates to explore the latest discoveries in basic, clinical, prevention, and implementation science.
The conference opens on the heels of UNAIDS release of global surveillance data which record marked progress against the pandemic. Over the last decade, steady growth in access to antiretroviral (ARV) medication has saved millions of lives and attracted considerable notice within the scientific community and beyond. Worldwide, 19.5 million people are on ARVs and several sub-Saharan nations are close to meeting UNAIDS “90-90-90” targets for testing, treatment, and viral load suppression. According to the Global AIDS Update, “the scales have tipped,” with AIDS-related deaths almost 50 percent less than in 2005. But while developing country treatment access has generated headlines, scientists warn that the pandemic is far from over.
“Despite the unprecedented humanitarian success of treatment scale-up, global stakeholders need to double down on prevention,” said Mark Feinberg, President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). “Demographic trends are not in our favor. Globally, the population in the age ranges most vulnerable to HIV infection is soaring. While our paramount goal remains a safe, effective, and available HIV vaccine, IAVI and its partners around the world are working to understand how different prevention strategies can be combined to combat HIV and AIDS today and in the future.”
Even with dramatic expansions in treatment access in the last decade, there has been no corresponding drop in the annual rate of new infections. Demographic indicators suggest that the growing youth population in sub-Saharan Africa – the group most susceptible to HIV infection – could result in a surge in new HIV infections, leading many to call for intensified growth in HIV prevention research and development (R&D).
Still Wanted: Prevention R&D
Even with dramatic reductions in community viremia at the population level, no corresponding drop in the annual rate of new infections has taken place since ARVs became available in the developing world. Demographic indicators suggest that the growing youth population in sub-Saharan Africa – the group most susceptible to HIV infection – could result in a surge in new HIV infections, leading many to call for intensified growth in HIV prevention research and development (R&D).
Over the last year, renewed interest in HIV R&D has buoyed scientists and advocates at IAVI. But further progress on biomedical prevention continues to outpace the financial support for this work. A report released today monitoring HIV Prevention R&D from 2000-2016 shows that 2016 funding for HIV prevention R&D was the lowest in a decade. The same report found European governments’ investment, which accounts for only six percent of public sector support for prevention R&D, reduced by 52 percent from its 2009 pinnacle.
Vaccines at the IAS Conference
New HIV vaccine science will be featured throughout the conference. Mark Feinberg will join Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Rogier Sanders, Professor of Virology at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, for “Future Perfect: Opportunities and Obstacles for HIV Vaccines.” Sponsored by the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, this session takes place on Sunday, July 23 at 5 p.m. Feinberg’s talk, “Next generation recombinant viral-vectored HIV vaccine candidates,” is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Devin Sok, Program Director, Antibody Discovery and Development at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center, will discuss new research published in Nature on the elicitation of broadly neutralizing antibodies by immunization in cows on Monday, July 24 at 5:15 p.m. Sok and his team were able to elicit HIV-blocking antibodies in cows in a matter of weeks – a process that can take years in humans.
In addition, Robin Shattock, Professor in the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, and Tomáš Hanke, professor of Vaccine Immunology at the University of Oxford, will join the expert panel on Translational Vaccinology on Monday, July 24 at 11 a.m. featuring Hanneke Schuitemaker of Janssen Vaccines & Prevention. Schuitemaker will share progress in antibody-mediated preventive vaccine strategies. Shattock directs the European HIV Vaccine Initiative. Hanke leads a new Europe – Africa consortium on the development of a new conserved mosaic vaccine candidate. Finally, the European HIV Vaccine Alliance, led by Yves Levy, CEO of INSERM, and by Giuseppe Pantaleo of the University of Lausanne, will host a symposium, Non-ARV Based Interventions to Combat HIV/AIDS: New Insights and Initiatives, on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, July 25, the Conference will host the formal launch of the End AIDS Coalition, an international effort spearheaded by UN Global AIDS Ambassador Kenneth Cole. A founding member of the Coalition, IAVI is helping to galvanize the global health community to identify the specific steps needed to end this epidemic by 2030.
“I’ve witnessed so much energy, so much passion, and so much progress over HIV in the last several years,” said Cole, whose pioneering leadership in HIV/AIDS advocacy extends from the epidemic’s earliest years through the creation of this first-of-its-kind, multi-sector coalition. “With increasing populations among the most vulnerable populations worldwide, the stakes have never been this high. The End AIDS Coalition must leverage worldwide expertise and create a plan for ending the epidemic once and for all.”
Participants in the Coalition launch include Ambassador Deborah Birx, US Global AIDS Coordinator; Marjike Wijnroks, Interim Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Jake Glaser, the son of long-time activist Paul Michael Glaser and his late wife Elizabeth Glaser.
For IAVI, the collaboration behind the End AIDS Coalition validates a long-held understanding about process by which science will arrive at an AIDS vaccine.
“Though basic biomedical research is integral to vaccine discovery, no researcher on earth thinks science can do it alone,” said Feinberg. “An effective AIDS vaccine will be the result of collaboration and cooperation by community members, policymakers, social and behavioral scientists, clinicians, and people living with HIV.”