How this HIV Research Leader Hopes to Make AIDS History

If amfAR, the foundation for AIDS research, has anything to say about it, HIV will accelerate its long-awaited disappearance into the world's rearview mirror by 2020.

That's the goal of the foundation's recently announced five-year, $20 million initiative to surmount what scientists believe to be the final medical hurdles in development of a cure for HIV.

The money will establish the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research, a collaborative effort based at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). We've been following amfAR's HIV-fighting initiatives for a while now, including its $100 million research strategy, and the plans for the new institute. Now, amfAR has announced the launch of that institute, which serves as the cornerstone of its strategy to develop the scientific basis of a cure for HIV by the end of 2020.

As is happening increasingly often in medical research nationally and globally, the institute will take a cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional approach, coordinating teams of scientists, from basic science to clinical studies.

Nearly 37 million people worldwide are infected with HIV. Antiretroviral drugs developed since the start of the HIV crisis have already saved many lives. But even though the drugs can reduce the virus to nearly undetectable levels, they can't completely eliminate the virus, which manages to hide out in small numbers in the body. Scientists believe that a true cure depends on finding and eliminating those last pockets of the virus. 

So the amfAR institute will support and manage research teams seeking to solve the four key challenges that experts believe must be overcome to create a cure: pinpointing the locations of the latent virus reservoirs; determining how those reservoirs are formed and why they persist; quantifying the amount of virus in them; and, finally, eradicating virus reservoirs from the body.

Teams will come from the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology (GIVI) and Blood Systems Research Institute, as well as Oregon Health and Science University; University of California, Berkeley; Gilead Sciences; and the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. 

"We intend to quicken the pace of cure research by supporting a collaborative community of leading HIV researchers in one cohesive enterprise," said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost in a press release. "The institute will allow them to conduct the science, share ideas, and test and evaluate new technologies and potential therapies in a state-of-the-art environment."