July 18, 2017

New approaches and opportunities for curing HIV will feature at IAS 2017

Written by International AIDS Society

Innovative approaches in cancer therapy point to new avenues for HIV cure research

(Paris, France) — Emerging opportunities to cure or achieve the long-term remission of HIV infection will be the focus when scientists, advocates and funders gather for the International AIDS Society (IAS) HIV Cure & Cancer Forum on 22 and 23 July, just before the 9th IAS Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2017).

This is the first time that leading HIV cure and cancer experts will come together on this scale to address potential links between two of the greatest scientific research challenges of our time. The forum will focus on the interface and similarities between HIV cure and cancer research, on cancer research approaches that may offer promise in controlling HIV infection and on strategies to strengthen alliances between the fields.

The IAS has been a global leader in efforts to promote collaboration between scientific disciplines to accelerate the pace of discovery in HIV cure research. The forum is co-chaired by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (Institut Pasteur, Paris, France), Steven Deeks (University of California, San Francisco, United States) and Sharon Lewin (The Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne, Australia).

“Uncovering and exploring the links between cancer and HIV is just one of the ways that the IAS expands the parameters of scientific research and helps shift the outcomes of this epidemic,” IAS President Linda-Gail Bekker said. “From the launch of the first ‘IAS Global Scientific Strategy: Towards an HIV Cure’ in 2012, the IAS has kept global attention focused on achieving what was once considered an impossible scientific milestone: a cure for HIV infection.”

“The parallels between HIV persistence and cancer are striking,” said Nobel Laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi. “In both cases, the immune response is unable to target and clear HIV-infected cells and tumor cells.  Both fields also face similar challenges in quantifying the size and distribution of those cells, which can reside in tissues that are difficult to access.”

“The potential of emerging synergies in HIV and cancer therapies is generating new excitement and interest in both fields,” said IAS HIV Cure & Cancer Forum Co-Chair Sharon Lewin. “The availability of several recent advances in cancer treatment for people living with HIV provides opportunities to understand whether these treatments can help eliminate the virus, in addition to the cancer. Gene therapy approaches now being used to treat cancer are also being studied to see whether they can help make cells resistant to HIV.”

In recent years, HIV cure research has expanded from efforts to eradicate or suppress HIV through the early use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) to include research on the use of immune-boosting strategies, some based on cancer treatment models, that could suppress viral replication to the point at which an HIV-infected person could discontinue ART and remain healthy. Currently, treatment for HIV requires life-long adherence to ART and can cause serious side effects.

Despite extraordinary efforts, access to HIV therapy today is far from universal. Just under half of the 36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide today (46% of adults and 49% of children) receive treatment. Long-term HIV remission is an important goal not only for the individuals who face a lifetime of treatment, but also for health systems confronting the challenge of providing HIV testing, treatment and retention services to millions of people in need with diminishing resources.

The IAS HIV Cure & Cancer Forum will be held at the Institut Curie and will include abstract-driven sessions, a poster exhibition and a roundtable discussion on the latest scientific advances in HIV cure research. There will be opportunities for dialogue among scientists, clinical researchers, funders and the community involved in HIV research worldwide.

Among the forum highlights are:

  • An opening keynote by Monsef Benkirane of the Institute of Human Genetics in Montpellier, France. Benkirane will present on his team’s recent breakthrough work identifying the CD32a marker, which, for the first time, makes it possible to differentiate “dormant” HIV-infected cells from healthy cells.
  • Noted researcher Marina Cavazzana of the Hôpital Necker in Paris, France, speaking on the overlap in gene therapy between cancer and HIV research.
  • An abstract-led session on immunology and immunotherapy featuring research on biomarkers for the programmed death protein (PD-1) and efforts to achieve a functional cure for HIV infection by blocking the molecule.

More detail about the IAS Cure & Cancer Forum’s programme can be found here.

Resources for HIV cure research rise, but cuts may threaten progress

Global investments in HIV cure funding grew last year to a record $268 million, a new analysis by the IAS HIV Cure resource tracking group and AVAC shows. Not all funders increased their commitment to HIV cure research, however. Some invested less in HIV cure research this year than in the past.

In addition, the overall global commitment to HIV cure research is heavily dependent on contributions from the largest global funder of AIDS research, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Proposed budget cuts at the NIH, however, may threaten progress towards an HIV cure, just as studies are pointing toward ever-more promising approaches to achieving HIV remission.

“Ensuring adequate, ongoing funding for HIV cure research is essential to realizing the potential of sustained HIV remission, improving patient lives and saving healthcare resources as HIV caseloads grow,” AVAC Executive Director Mitchell Warren said. “As research at the IAS HIV Cure & Cancer Forum demonstrates, investigations into HIV cure strategies are also advancing research and enhancing lives for people with other serious diseases. HIV cure research is now an essential part of global public health strategies that should be protected and enhanced in future funding cycles.”

Merger offers new opportunities to strengthen cure research

IAS Towards an HIV Cure Co-Chairs Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Jack Whitescarver will also announce at IAS 2017 that the IAS initiative has merged with another leader in the field, the HIV Cure Initiative (HCI). The new entity, which will operate under the IAS Towards an HIV Cure name, will join forces to better promote HIV cure research and speed the development of effective HIV remission or cure strategies.

Launched in 2013 at a meeting sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation and housed at the Infectious Disease Research Institute, the HCI has fostered high-level public-private strategic partnerships towards an HIV cure through an international alliance of leading scientific, governmental, philanthropic and industrial organizations.

HCI also brings to the alliance the participation of a number of key stakeholders. Its work and expertise is synergistic with the IAS Towards an HIV Cure Industry Collaboration Group, which will continue to function at a more operational and technical level. The contributions and expertise of HCI will be incorporated into the IAS Towards an HIV Cure Initiative 2017-2020 Strategy.

IAS-ANRS Dominique Dormont Prize

The recipient of the $5,000 IAS-ANRS Dominique Dormont prize will also be announced at the forum. The prize is funded by the Dominique Dormont Association to support young researchers working on chronic health conditions, with a particular focus on the interface between HIV and other chronic diseases. The prize recognizes researchers who demonstrate originality, rationale, quality and a multidisciplinary and integrative approach in the field of HIV and AIDS research.

Scholars

The IAS Towards an HIV Cure scholarship programme supports 34 young researchers, researchers from resource-limited settings and community representative working to advance HIV cure and cancer research worldwide with full and partial scholarships to attend the IAS HIV Cure & Cancer Forum. IAS Towards an HIV Cure scholarships enable recipients to present exceptional HIV cure research through oral and poster sessions, build the global network of researchers and advocates working to advance HIV cure studies, and share ideas and debate and network with their peers.