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World AIDS Day Event Highlights DoD Contributions to Fight the HIV Pandemic

December 2, 2019

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) hosted a World AIDS Day event Tuesday highlighting advances in DoD-led HIV research and celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Army-led RV144 HIV vaccine study. 

MHRP headed the RV144 “Thai study,” the first-ever – and only to-date – clinical trial to demonstrate an HIV vaccine regimen was safe and modestly effective in preventing HIV infection. In 2009 the Army announced that the investigational prime-boost vaccine regimen lowered the rate of HIV infection by 31.2 percent. These results, though modest, gave the global community hope that a vaccine to prevent HIV infection is possible at a time when such an achievement seemed elusive. 

“RV144 was the light at the time in the field, without which we may have given up,” said Dr. John Mascola, Director of the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center and the featured speaker at WRAIR’s World AIDS Day event. “In the last 10 years of HIV vaccine progress, RV144 is the anchor.”

The landmark trial continues to provide scientific direction to help guide vaccine development and testing. RV144 and its follow-on trials allowed researchers to discover correlates of risk, provide targets for optimizing vaccine boosting, and form a foundation for three HIV vaccine candidates currently undergoing efficacy testing.

The RV144 trial represented a massive undertaking for the Army and serves as a model of international and interagency collaboration. It involved more than 16,000 adult volunteers and a large network of partners who still collaborate with WRAIR today, including the Thai Ministry of Public Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and Sanofi Pasteur. 

At the World AIDS Day event, LTG (Ret.) Eric B. Schoomaker, 42nd Surgeon General of the United States Army and Commanding General of the United States Army Medical Command, highlighted the military’s earliest contributions to HIV research, which include the development of a disease staging system and promoting the finding that HIV can be transmitted heterosexually. The military’s HIV research efforts were consolidated in 1986 with the establishment of MHRP. 

MHRP’s initial mission was to advance an HIV vaccine to protect service members and the global community from HIV but has since expanded beyond vaccine development to include cure research and provision of prevention and treatment services in Africa under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Via PEPFAR initiatives, WRAIR provides life-saving antiretroviral therapy to more than 350,000 people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, the stabilizing impact of which contributes to global health security.

“Those countries that partner with us on PEPFAR have a 40 percent decrease in violence and a 40 increase in political stability,” said WRAIR Commander COL Deydre S. Teyhen at Tuesday’s event. “So we say that soldier health is world health, but in fighting HIV/AIDS, WRAIR researchers are also working to advance world peace.”