HIV Vaccine Awareness Day 2016

Dr. Larry Corey

Principal Investigator, HVTN

Dr. Larry Corey, Principal Investigator, HVTN

On this HIV Vaccine Awareness Day 2016, I’m actually thinking of another date: June 5, 1981. It was 35 years ago that the very first report of what came to be known as AIDS was published in the US Center for Disease Control’s weekly MMWR report. That report said that 5 young men, all “active homosexuals” at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California were being treated for Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, as well as previous or current cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections; both are rare diseases that could signal a weakened immune system. No one knew at that time that these men would become the first recorded cases of 71 million infections at the beginning of a pandemic that would claim over 34 million lives.

I can look back on those years both personally and professionally as a physician, as a researcher, and as a man who said goodbye to too many friends whose lives were cut short by AIDS. I can also see the gains we have made in the fight against HIV. We have developed highly effective anti-retroviral therapy with an arsenal of drugs that have given new life to those who thought their lives were over. We have worked together as a community to develop powerful new interventions such as PrEP – pre-exposure prophylaxis – people most at risk taking a pill a day to prevent HIV infection. Another new intervention called Test and Treat has shown us how to lower the viral load in an entire community by increasing HIV testing efforts to find those who have become infected but don’t know their HIV status, connecting them to care and treatment, and ultimately lowering their viral load and making it less likely that they will pass on that infection to others.

We can be proud as a scientific and advocacy community of what we have accomplished but we cannot be complacent. Two million more people will become infected with HIV this year, with sub-Saharan Africa bearing the greatest burden. In South Africa alone, 1000 people become infected each day. Our best long term hope to stop the spread of HIV is a safe and effective HIV vaccine, and this is the mission of the HVTN.

Earlier this year we began conducting two approaches to stem the tide of new HIV infections; one is delivering broadly neutralizing antibodies (Antibody Mediated Prevention) in partnership with the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN). These antibodies prevent HIV from binding and infecting human cells. This study is enrolling 1500 heterosexual women in sub-Saharan Africa, and enrolling 2700 men and transgender people who have sex with men in North and South America. Knowledge gained from these trials could inform future HIV vaccine development as well as determine if such an approach can be used widely. Later this year we will begin enrolling 5400 adults in the Republic of South Africa in HVTN 702, a trial that could lead to the first licensed vaccine against HIV if the results are favorable.

I look forward to the day when HVAD is a day of celebration for the successful completion of our mission to develop a globally effective, safe and affordable vaccine to prevent HIV-1.

 

Dr. Larry Corey

Principal Investigator, HVTN