Science Life

The NIH Increased Funding for Research to Find a Cure for HIV: Why That May Not Be the Best Approach

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Health and Human Services deliver remarks in observance of World AIDS Day 2013. December 2, 2013.

In a White House event marking the 25th annual World AIDS Day last week, the National Institutes of Health announced plans to add an additional $100 million in research funds to find a cure for HIV.

In the 30 years since AIDS was first reported, the NIH has helped fund researchers and supported public/private partnerships that have developed more than 30 life-saving antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations to treat HIV infection, the NIH said in a statement.

Funding is set to come from existing resources and a redirection of funds from expiring AIDS research grants over the next three years.

“Flat budgets and cuts from sequestration have had a profound and damaging impact on biomedical research, but we must continue to find ways to support cutting-edge science, even in this environment,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in a statement. “AIDS research is an example of an area where hard-won progress over many years has resulted in new and exciting possibilities in basic and clinical science in AIDS that must be pursued.”

John Schneider, MD, MPH

John Schneider, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine and director of the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, said the NIH’s $100 million plan is bold, but has some major weaknesses.

“The plan does not incorporate any implementation science, as far as I can tell,” he said. “Most of the ideas out there that include eliminating viral reservoirs, or somehow curing clients through immune modulation/replacement, are not really grounded in the realities of current health care costs and the limitations that most who have HIV would need to acquire costly and technologically complicated treatment.”

Given increasingly tighter budgets, Schneider does not think that the search for a cure is the best use of research funding.

“We have the tools right now to eliminate new cases of HIV transmission over the next 30 years,” he said. “If this funding drains implementation science and advancing policies to limit transmission, then it will only make things worse.”

The CCHE is embedded within the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, the HIV epicenter of Chicago. A team of UChicago faculty, working with staff, students and the community, seek to  integrate research, clinical and community-based activities at the university that are strategically designed to eliminate new HIV transmission events.

Schneider cautions that an intense research focus on finding a cure could pull funding from less scientific initiatives that could help reduce the spread of the disease.

“While there are problems with programs that try to educate and then change people’s behavior, there are other interventions, such as test and treat, and getting people on pre-exposure prophylaxis that, when coupled with rigorous public health funding and linkage, could begin to turn the tide. We are not even close to having the resources to make a public health impact.”