Dr. Anthony Fauci has spent virtually his entire career as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH tracking the AIDS epidemic.
In a session on the advancement of science and research on HIV, he gave an insightful overview of the early days when key discoveries were made but it was also an era he described as the dark ages for patients and caregivers: “We had a frustrating feeling we were trained to heal and we were really not healing anyone.”
Fauci traced the scientific journey of HIV/AIDS to the present and recent advances that have led to a new phase in addressing the epidemic. Looking ahead, he identified scientific challenges and implementation challenges as the key areas for future efforts.
Vaccine and cure pose crucial scientific challenges, whether it’s finding a functional cure–permanent suppression of viral replication without eradicating HIV genetic material–or sterilizing cure where HIV infection is eradicated.
Fauci added that while it’s time for science to pass the baton to implementation we must also let science inform policy.
He was joined at the session by Dr. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of HIV, who covered past and future accomplishments of HIV research. She’s also president-elect of IAS, which is using this meeting to call for cure as a fourth pillar to be combined with the three existing pillars of HIV response: prevention, treatment and care. Barre-Sinoussi is co-chair of a new initiative to develop a strategy called Towards an HIV Cure, which will be launched at AIDS 2012.
The notion of a cure remains controversial and several sessions this week address that topic.
Yet as long as new infections continue to outpace the number of people on treatment and long-term therapy remains costly (particularly for those in developing countries) the search for a cure has gained new urgency.