As the 8th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2015) came to a close in Vancouver, Canada, we spoke one last time by Skype with Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, Director of the Division of AIDS at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), to learn about some of the highlights. Throughout the conference, he reports, researchers shared information about various scientific pathways that may bring us to both an HIV vaccine and a cure.
HIV Cure Research
Dr. Dieffenbach shared that several conference presentations examined progress on two approaches to HIV cure research: a functional cure where the immune system or other properties in human body would naturally control and suppress HIV such that a person living with HIV would not be infectious and the disease would not progress, and eradication (sometimes called a sterilizing cure), where the virus is totally eliminated from the body of an infected individual. In addition, just prior to the conference, the fourth annual Towards an HIV Cure Symposium was held. Abstracts, slides and video of many of the cure-related sessions are available from this page of the conference web site (scroll down and click on Toward an HIV Cure). You can also read more about NIAID’s HIV cure research activities.
HIV Vaccine Advances
Dr. Dieffenbach also shared with us that “there’s been excitement in the vaccine world here at this meeting.” He explained that studies were presented about various aspects of the two primary strategies toward a vaccine that are being investigated. The first of these involves applying the lessons from the Thai vaccine trial (RV144) which previously showed that an experimental vaccine regimen was safe and modestly effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection in people. (Read Dr. Dieffenbach’s 2009 post on the Thai vaccine trial.) Dr. Dieffenbach explained that using ideas generated from RV144 researchers will soon begin to evaluate a similar type of product in a study in South Africa. The second avenue of exploration involves broadly neutralizing antibodies, a powerful type of antibody that is capable of fighting an array of HIV strains and attacking key sites on the virus. NIH and other researchers have made progress in understanding how broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies develop. If a vaccine could stimulate the immune systems of those without HIV infection to produce these antibodies, the antibodies might protect against infection. Abstracts, slides and video of many of the vaccine-related sessions are available from this page of the conference web site (scroll down and click on “vaccine”). Read more about HIV vaccine research in this NIAID Bulletin from the May 2015 observance of National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.
Finally, watch the video above to hear Dr. Dieffenbach’s main take-away message from IAS 2015 and his observations on how the science discussed there relates to next week’s release of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated through 2020.