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In the 25 years that have passed since the first annual commemoration of World AIDS Day, extraordinary scientific progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS. That progress has turned an HIV diagnosis from an almost-certain death sentence to what is now for many, a manageable medical condition and nearly normal lifespan. We have come far, yet not far enough.
In 2012, more than 2 million new HIV infections and 1.6 million AIDS-related deaths occurred globally.
Although these numbers represent a decline from previous years, they also reflect a grim reality: far too many people become HIV-infected and die from the effects of the disease. On World AIDS Day, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reaffirms its commitment to finding improved HIV treatments and tools for preventing infection (including a vaccine), addressing the conditions and diseases associated with long-term HIV infection, and, ultimately, finding a cure.
Over the years since HIV was established as the cause of AIDS, NIH-funded researchers—in partnership with academia and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries—have developed more than 30 life-saving antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations for treating HIV infection. Moreover, as the landmark HPTN 052 clinical trial proved, antiretroviral treatment can also effectively prevent HIV transmission by lowering the amount of virus in infected individuals, thereby making them less able to transmit the virus to their sexual partners. Today, we are working to improve upon these medicines by developing drugs that are longer-acting, simpler to use, and with fewer side effects. Further, NIH scientists and grantees are exploring the administration of anti-HIV antibodies as a way to treat infection. This approach was recently shown to be effective when used in monkeys infected with a genetically engineered version of simian HIV. Additionally, NIH researchers have begun early stage human testing of a monoclonal antibody (called VRC01), which in the laboratory, protected human cells against infection by more than 90 percent of known HIV strains.
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