amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

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2018 HIV Cure Summit

Clinical Trials, Community Voices

“For a lot of folks, having a cure for HIV would bring a kind of freedom,” said longtime HIV advocate Rob Newells in his opening remarks at amfAR’s HIV Cure Summit, November 28. “Freedom from pill popping, freedom from HIV stigma, freedom from discrimination and criminalization.” Held at the University of California, San Francisco, home to the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research, the summit drew advocates and community members from across the Bay Area.

Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR VP and director of research, elucidated the two types of cure that researchers are pursuing. “There’s eradication, and there’s post treatment control,” she said. “Eradication is pretty straightforward—you get rid of the virus from the person’s body. But post-treatment control is a little more complex. You still have HIV, it’s just that you don’t need to take antiretroviral therapy to control it, you have your immune system controlling it.”

Much of the discussion centered on analytic treatment interruption (ATI). The only means currently available for proving that a person has been cured “is to remove antiretroviral therapy,” Dr. Johnston said. “And when we do that, it’s under closely controlled and monitored conditions.” For a study participant who doesn’t know whether and when his or her HIV might rebound, and whether or not he or she may be infectious, ATI can be a prolonged period of enormous anxiety.

Dr. Steven Deeks, a professor of medicine at UCSF and a lead investigator at the amfAR Institute, explained the complex clinical study he is about to embark on. “We’re going to make the first serious attempt to achieve remission or cure in HIV-infected people,” he said. In the five-stage trial, Dr. Deeks and his team will administer a series of therapeutic vaccines, broadly neutralizing antibodies, and an agent to shock the virus out of its hiding places.

The Summit featured a range of perspectives from members of the community advisory board for the amfAR Institute and other community leaders. Cori Moreland, for example, a leading advocate for transgender people of color, reminded the audience that AIDS remains a mortal threat in many communities. “I lost five people that have died from AIDS last year, who were between the ages of 28 and 35,” he said.