AIDS Specialists Aim to Jump-Start Hunt For a Cure
WASHINGTON (AP) - For years it seemed hopeless. Now the hunt for a cure for AIDS is back on.
International AIDS specialists on Thursday released what they call a road map for research toward a cure for HIV - a strategy for global teams of scientists to explore a number of intriguing leads that just might, years from now, pan out.
"Today’s the first step," said French Nobel laureate Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of the HIV virus who also co-chaired development of the strategy.
"No one thinks it’s going to be easy," added strategy co-chair Dr. Steven Deeks of the University of California, San Francisco. "Some don’t think it’s possible."
The announcement came just before the International AIDS Conference begins on Sunday, when more than 20,000 scientists, activists and policymakers gather in the nation’s capital with a far different focus: how to dramatically cut the spread of the AIDS virus, what they call "turning the tide" of the epidemic, using some powerful tools already in hand.
Chief among them is getting more of the world’s 34 million HIV-infected people on life-saving medications, so they stay healthier and are less likely to infect others. By itself, that is a huge hurdle. Just 8 million of the 15 million treatment-eligible patients in AIDS-ravaged poor regions of the world are getting the drugs.
But Barre-Sinoussi, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, which hosts the conference, said that lifelong treatment, as good as it is, isn’t the end-all solution - and that science finally is showing that a cure "could be a realistic possibility."
The panelists refused to estimate Thursday how much this research would cost. But already, the National Institutes of Health has increased spending on cure-related research, about $56 million last year, according to a report in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. Scientists attempting cure research will meet Friday and Saturday, ahead of the AIDS conference, to compare notes.
And the new strategy won praise from Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS.
"The previous generation fought for treatment," he said. "Our generation must fight for a cure."
Today’s anti-HIV drugs can tamp down the virus to undetectable levels - but they don’t eradicate it. Instead, tiny amounts of the virus can hide out in different tissues and roar back if medication is stopped.
That means there’s no certainty of developing a cure.