March 6, 2009
The San Francisco Chronicle on Friday examined a recent challenge issued by HIV/AIDS advocates, scientists and the pharmaceutical industry to reduce HIV-positive people's dependency on antiretroviral drugs and ultimately eradicate the disease from the body. For their call to action, several scientists on Friday published a review paper in the journal Science titled, "The Challenge of Finding a Cure for HIV Infection." According to the Chronicle, the authors aim to "find a path that would free every" HIV-positive person worldwide from the virus and "from lifelong dependence on the drugs that can hold the virus at bay, but are far too costly" for developing countries.
The authors dedicated the paper to Martin Delaney, founder and former director of San Francisco's Project Inform, who died in January. Before he died, Delaney had worked with scientists to develop plans for the coordinated research initiative, which they are calling a "collaboratory." The authors of the paper include Warner Greene of the University of California-San Francisco's Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology; Daria Hazuda of Merck; David Margolis of the University of North Carolina; Douglas Richman of the University of California-San Diego; and Roger Pomerantz of Johnson & Johnson.
Although highly active antiretroviral therapy has achieved success in delaying the progression of HIV, the treatments are "overwhelmingly expensive" and many developing nations cannot afford the cost of the drugs, the Chronicle reports. According to the United Nations, more than 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide, but only four million currently receive HAART, of which one million are in the U.S. HAART also does not fully eliminate HIV from the body, meaning that people need to take the drugs indefinitely. According to the Chronicle, the scientists' "ultimate goal is to find ways to purge those latent virus particles" from HIV-positive people and "thereby forestall permanent dependence on those overwhelmingly expensive drugs." By eradicating all latent viruses in the cells of HIV-positive people, the researchers hope that the "immune systems of those who are infected would be empowered to cope with any few virus particles that remain without ever requiring more antiretroviral drug therapy," the Chronicle reports. Greene said that the "big question is how do we turn against a silent virus when we can't kill it until it expresses itself?" He added that the effort "calls for a fundamentally different approach to cure the HIV infection, and it's an extremely tough goal that may not even succeed."
Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he will strongly support the collaborative research effort. "Finding a cure for HIV infection may be a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it would mean you could stop taking drug therapy and the virus wouldn't bounce back," he said. Fauci said he had discussed this idea with Delaney, adding that it "may never succeed, but it's surely worth trying." According to Fauci, the HIV/AIDS budget for NIAID and other institutes within NIH is currently about $2.9 billion, and it already is funding some of the new approaches sought by the researchers (Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/6).
An abstract of the review paper is available online.
Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at www.kaisernetwork.org/dailyreports/hiv. The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2009 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.