Glasgow HIV 2016 has just opened.
It was interesting to hear new-comers to this meeting reflect on the three excellent presentations in the opening: Clarity, different perspectives, and reflections mixed with predictions. The sessions will be up on the Conference website shortly.
Tony Fauci, giving the Joep Lange and Jacqueline van Tongeren Memorial Lecture. Ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic: follow the science, reflected on the changes that have come about since he entered the field in 1981, following the publication of seminal articles in the MMRW. Fauci indicated that this is when he decided to change his career trajectory and concentrate on the, as then un-named, phenomenon which would become HIV.
Fauci sprinted through 30 years of HIV to focus on the more recent research which has redefined ending HIV. Namely the recognition that treatment reduces virus which in turn reduces transmission and that knowing ones status allows for interventions. But he did not stop there. He went on to cast and eye to the horizon and identified two areas where science has significant contributions to make.
HIV persistence, or stopping persistence, is a holy grail. This comes in two forms, eradicating HIV where HIV is made dormant while treatment is administered, yet re-emerges when treatment is stopped or controlling rebound, where interference at binding or replication sites reduces proliferation. This individualised therapy has shown to be useful in this strategy in cancer treatment and it has potential in HIV.
HIV vaccines, whether therapeutic or preventative are of course what everyone is hoping for. Fauci presented some realistic steps which are being made to transition vaccines from 32% effective to more like 50% effective, a point which he suggested could make significant inroads in reducing transmission, particularly in endemic settings and in combination with other strategies. He also discussed a number of new vaccine initiatives.
He ended with neat summary of why vaccinologists have not yet been rewarded. This I thought was a poignant rationale for continuing with vaccine development in the absence of any hitherto prizes. Most vaccines mimic the actual process of disease and immune response. That is not the case in HIV, so the vaccinologist needs not to copy the virus, but be much smarter than it.
Spoke about the potential to improve treatment access through the greater use of generic drugs. I can’t help thinking every time I hear Andrew talk that he is simplifying something in the greater economics and practicalities of capitalism or financial markets. But his arguments are very compelling.
Interestingly Andrew inserted discussion about Australia’s funding for hepatitis C treatment. Having just come from the USA where I was asked about details of the same, it seems to me that there are very different mechanisms in place in different countries which can result in very different approaches to price setting.
Two years ago at this meeting Andrew suggested it might be in the interests of the NHS budget to make a two pill (rather than single pill) regimen available to the UK public through the NHS. This brought criticism from at least one senior Australian clinician and commentator who thought that it would be unacceptable to expect patients to take a less convenient regimen.
As always presented clearly and passionately about the current experience of HIV in Africa and was able to compare and contrast this to other global settings. She is able to mix population and locational differences and introduce a third dimension of how these interact.
Adolescents were for a long time not a priority in HIV prevention. Key affected populations, are largely characterised as being “the-non-majority population”. While recognising this, she introduced an emerged KAP in Africa and that is adolescent women.
Linda-Gail was able to focus on trends which demonstrated changes for the good. It was very interesting to see a map where Australia was pink (on a blue to red scale) for increasing or sustained new infections. While our numbers might not be big they seem to be somewhat intransigent. Many African states have seen dramatic improvements. While more developed settings seem to be finding it difficult to make changes to address persistent, comparatively low-level, new infections. Something which Fauci also recognised in the USA. It would be interesting to see Andrew Hill’s economic assessment of the cost of these different interventions.
A great opening session which augers well for the coming days.