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Statement on World AIDS Day 2012
COL Nelson Michael, Director, MHRP
As we approach World AIDS Day, I am happy to report that we are accelerating progress against HIV on all fronts. We are coming together now more than ever—countries, organizations, prevention tools, research disciplines, and government agencies—in an unprecedented effort to control the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
A new UNAIDS report provides optimistic news that a more than 50% reduction in the rate of new HIV infections has been achieved across 25 low- and middle-income countries––more than half in Africa.
This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the new PEPFAR Blueprint: Creating an AIDS-free Generation, which details how to help move more countries toward and beyond the tipping point in their epidemics and put them on a path to achieving an AIDS-free generation. This unprecedented global health program has placed more than 5 million people on life-saving anti-retroviral therapy (ART). As an implementing partner, MHRP has placed nearly 200,000 of these people on ARTs. The blueprint makes clear that the United States’ commitment to this goal will remain strong, comprehensive and driven by science.
International efforts to curb the epidemic are working, but we urgently need a vaccine to sustain this progress and end the epidemic. MHRP has been working diligently toward that end. The Army-led RV144 offered the vaccine research field renewed hope and, more importantly, it provided scientific direction to help guide future vaccine development. In this last year, military researchers—with the support of partners worldwide—made substantive progress in understanding what it will take to develop a more efficacious HIV vaccine. Two major papers were published in the NEJM and Nature that confirm and extend the results of RV144, and reinforce the importance of the V1/V2 region of HIV’s Envelope protein, which could be a critical target for future HIV vaccines.
Additionally, MHRP is pursuing novel vaccine strategies. Collaborative work also published this year in Nature, points the way to new vaccine combinations aimed at global protection that will soon be evaluated in clinical studies. At the same time, MHRP is testing a promising next-generation HIV vaccine in Africa and Sweden. One of the components of these vaccine regimens was developed at MHRP in collaboration with NIH.
Finally, the National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded a $5 million grant to MHRP researchers to support the research and development of a combination heroin/HIV vaccine. This innovative dual-vaccine model would concurrently address the entwined epidemics of heroin abuse and HIV and could provide considerable public health benefit.
The HIV vaccine field is the most vibrant since we first began the search over two decades ago. The scientific basis for developing vaccines has never been better, in terms of understanding the immune system and protective immune responses, and there is much more consistency across animal models. In addition, I believe that a perfect storm of discovery science, clinical trial results, and product availability has led the field, including MHRP, to become excited about exploring HIV therapeutic vaccines again.
I am confident that collectively, we can maintain this unprecedented momentum in preventing and treating HIV infection, and continue to make discoveries and develop novel technologies to help move us closer to an AIDS free generation. As Secretary Clinton said, “Imagine what the world will look like when we succeed.”