Impact Report 2021
Toward Treatment-Free Control of HIV
A think tank in December brought together a group of 13 scientists to discuss data from a groundbreaking study published in Science Translational Medicine, and the tantalizing possibility of inducing ART-free control of HIV. It is hoped that the study and think tank, which was featured in the leading scientific journal Science, will pave the way to important new studies that take this avenue of investigation to the next level.
$600,000 Awarded for Gene Therapy Research
amfAR awarded approximately $600,000 in new funding to three researchers pioneering gene therapy approaches to target and eliminate the HIV reservoir. A major obstacle to an HIV cure is the lack of a biomarker to differentiate reservoir cells from healthy, uninfected cells. In its request for proposals, amfAR charged researchers with devising creative ways of using the provirus—HIV that has integrated into a host cell’s DNA—to flag the presence of HIV and zero in on reservoir cells. They were also encouraged to target both fully functional proviruses and the vast majority that are defective, since these can lead to inflammation that causes serious health conditions, even if they can’t produce new viruses. Funding was awarded to Dr. Todd Allen of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard; Dr. Anastasios Karadimitris of Imperial College, London; and Dr. Jori Symons of University Medical Center Utrecht.
Cultivating Talented Young Researchers
Two emerging scientists were awarded the prestigious Mathilde Krim Fellowship, which focuses on novel research in the quest for a cure. Named for amfAR’s Founding Chairman Dr. Mathilde Krim, the Fellowship program addresses the gap created by the dwindling sources of support available to young scientists. These young researchers are often the ones with the most innovative and daring ideas – ideas with breakthrough potential. Dr. Aleksandar Antanasijevic of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, is using the grant for an HIV vaccine study while Dr. Ujjwal Rathore of the Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco, CA, is leading a study of the genes involved in maintaining HIV latency. The researchers were each awarded $150,000 over two years.
A Potential Treatment for COVID-19?
Among the grants amfAR has awarded for COVID-19 research, a study by researchers at the University of Montreal generated four scientific papers, including one in the high-impact journal Nature Medicine. Tapping into the Quebec COVID-19 Biobank, a large repository of biological samples from COVID patients, the researchers were able to identify a protein called OAS1 that appears to have a protective effect against COVID-19. The next step will be to look for existing drugs that increase OAS1 levels and might therefore form the basis of an effective treatment.
A Critical Source of Data
amfAR’s Andelson Office of Public Policy in Washington, D.C., recently supplemented its suite of databases with a dashboard specific to the key populations that are most vulnerable to HIV infection. Among those key populations are transgender individuals, who are commonly stigmatized and frequently neglected in national HIV plans. In 2021 amfAR undertook a systematic review of 60 National HIV Strategic Plans and found that transgender people are often excluded from some – and in many cases, all – of the plans’ five key sections. Study results were depicted in a series of infographics that have become an invaluable and widely used resource for advocates and policymakers.
amfAR analysis finds significant gaps in national HIV strategies
Leading on HIV Prevention
amfAR’s ongoing partnership with the New York State AIDS Institute has seamlessly ensured that harm reduction agencies statewide have the supplies they need. In 2021 alone, amfAR distributed over 5 million male and female condoms and almost 600,000 lubricant packets. amfAR also distributed over 15 million clean syringes to 43 authorized programs in New York State as part of the New York State Department of Health’s Syringe Access initiatives.
Impact on HIV/AIDS in Asia
amfAR’s TREAT Asia program (Therapeutics Research, Education and AIDS Training in Asia) was awarded a five-year renewal grant of $15 million from the National Institutes of Health to ensure that its critical work – and its impact – continues at its 21 adult and 21 pediatric clinical sites across 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.