The good news is that recent advances in HIV-prevention research may change this trend. A large international study, HPTN 052, demonstrated that treating HIV-infected patients dramatically decreases the chance they will transmit the infection to their sexual partners. The iPrEx study, a study of daily HIV therapy taken by HIV uninfected gay men, demonstrated that if men adhered to the treatment strategy their risk of acquiring HIV was significantly reduced. However, research to prevent HIV infection will not stop until we have a safe and effective HIV vaccine. As HIV-vaccine researchers reflect on advances made in 2011, we have much to be thankful for.
This year we learned how an HIV vaccine may have altered the immune system to protect some people against HIV. Two years ago, researchers leading the largest-ever HIV vaccine study of 16,400 people in Thailand inspired the HIV-prevention field when they announced that approximately 32 percent of people who received the experimental HIV-vaccine regimen were protected from becoming infected with HIV. This was the first efficacy trial of a preventive HIV vaccine to show any effectiveness, and it proved that finding a vaccine against HIV is possible. This year, scientists began to explain how this protection occurred, providing clues about how to repeat and improve upon the results seen in the Thai study.
This breakthrough and many others in HIV prevention this year have reignited hope that we can finally end the HIV epidemic.
We are also thankful that we have a way to channel our hope, and an opportunity to follow up on what we’ve learned from the Thai study. We can learn even more from another HIV-vaccine study taking place right now closer to home. The HIV Vaccine Trials Network is currently conducting several HIV-vaccine studies, including the largest ongoing HIV-vaccine study in the world, to help us learn even more about how to stop the spread of HIV. This study, called HVTN 505, is going on here in Philadelphia and in 17 other cities in the United States. It is testing whether an HIV vaccine can prevent infection among gay men and trans women. Over 100 members of our community have generously volunteered to be a part of this study in Philadelphia, joining 1,300 other individuals across the country. We are sincerely thankful for their generosity and courage. We also want to thank the many others who have supported this project.
Last but not least, we are thankful that we at the University of Pennsylvania have the opportunity to join with current and future study volunteers to continue to be a part of this effort that can change the world as we know it. Scientists can’t achieve this progress alone, and as our HIV-vaccine studies continue to enroll healthy, HIV-negative volunteers, we believe that by working together we can truly make a difference. This has never seemed more true to us than this year, when we have seen so much progress and when, thanks to our study volunteers, we are hopeful of moving one step closer to ending this epidemic once and for all.
- Dr. Ian Frank, on behalf of the staff of the University of Pennsylvania HIV Vaccine Trials Unit