Nature examines how funding shortfalls are hampering global efforts to use drugs to curb the spread of HIV, writing, “[A]t this week’s annual Conference on RetroÂviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle, Washington, there was growing concern that financial austerity in the United States and elsewhere is eating away at the funding needed for a worldwide prevention effort.” The journal cites proposed reductions “to direct international aid for HIV programs under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)” in President Barack Obama’s FY 2013 budget request and an announcement by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria last November that it had cancelled Round 11 grants “until 2014 because of tightening budgets in donor countries.”
“Researchers will find out early next year whether the first new vaccine against tuberculosis [TB] for 90 years protects against a disease that was once neglected but is now resurgent worldwide,” Financial Times reports. “Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, said on Monday that clinical trial results of the MVA85A vaccine — developed in her laboratory over 10 years at a cost of Â£30 million [$48 million] — would be known in the first quarter of 2013,” the newspaper writes (Cookson, 10/15). “Today, most babies in the world are immunized with the old Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, first used in 1921,” PlusNews/IRIN writes. “Oxford’s vaccine, known as MVA85A, is designed to boost the effects of BCG,” the news service adds (10/16).
Attendees of a recent WHO meeting that discussed the possible publication in the journals Nature and Science of two studies that modified H5N1 bird flu strains to show the virus could be more easily transmissible among humans decided publication of redacted versions would be ineffective and that “a system for distributing the full paper only to selected individuals would be impossible to set up on any relevant timescale,” a Nature editorial states. Participants also learned “not only does the mammalian transmissibility threat seem greater than previously thought, but also that current avian viruses have some of the mutations identified in the new work,” according to the editorial.
Pharmaceutical company Novartis “has spoken out following criticism about its challenge to India’s patent laws, insisting that access to life-saving drugs is not under peril by the move,” Pharma Times World News reports. The case, which the Indian Supreme Court is scheduled to hear next month, challenges “Indian patent law, notably Section 3(d), which states that a modification of a known chemical composition is non-patentable,” the news service writes.
As part of its “Blueprint” series discussing the creation of a U.S. global AIDS blueprint called for by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July, the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog features an interview with Rochelle Walensky, a member of the Cost-effectiveness of Preventing AIDS Complications (CEPAC) and of the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council at the NIH/DHS Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents. According to the transcript, she discusses the key elements she feels should be a part of the blueprint, notes the interventions she feels would be critical components of a combination prevention package, and examines the role research should play in the blueprint, among other topics (Barton, 11/1).
KPLU 88.5’s “Humanosphere” blog reports on a meeting of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), “the world’s largest HIV vaccine research network,” held in Seattle this week. “We actually don’t know what the agenda is,” HVTN Executive Director Jim Kublin said during a lecture, titled “Scientific Agenda, the Next Seven Years,” according to the blog. “But what makes it easier to laugh about not knowing where you’re going, he added, is that researchers today have a lot more tantalizing clues — beginning with the ground-breaking Thai vaccine trial known to this bunch as RV144,” the blog writes and describes the study (Paulson, 10/31).
“[O]ne thing I’ve learned from working on HIV/AIDS my entire political career — we are far better united than divided,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) writes in a Politico opinion piece, noting examples of bipartisan legislation that “help to slow the rate of infections and reduce the number of deaths from AIDS.” She continues, “We can put into place the policies that can help end AIDS. Even in a time of fiscal uncertainty, we have the resources. We just have to be smart about it, and that means responding to the reality of HIV and not the luxury of our political comfort.” Lee writes, “Worldwide, we have to maximize our efficiency and build programs that make sense,” including integrating family planning, maternal health, and HIV services and “respond[ing] to the needs expressed by key populations, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, and people who inject drugs.” She says, “As long as we are supporting laws that limit comprehensive sex education, deny federal funding for syringe exchange services, or criminalize people living with HIV for consensual sex, biting and spitting, we are allowing HIV to thrive.”
“In October 1987, Roy Vagelos, then the chief executive of [pharmaceutical company] Merck, launched the largest pharmaco-philanthropic venture ever,” William Foege, an epidemiologist and former director of the CDC, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece highlighting the company’s efforts to combat onchocerciasis in the developing world through the free distribution of its drug Mectizan. Initially developed to protect dogs against heartworms, Merck found a human version of the drug “could inhibit the microfilaria of onchocerciasis for a year with a single dose,” Foege continues, adding, “Merck said that it would supply the drug as long as it was needed. Extended surveillance has shown this to be one of the safest drugs ever developed.”
Noting that the Supreme Court last week upheld the Obama administration’s Affordable Health Act, Huffington Post reporters Zach Carter and Sabrina Siddiqui write in this Huffington Post editorial that “while the president has focused on lowering health care costs at home, he has repeatedly sought to impose higher drug prices abroad.” They add, “For pharmaceutical companies, that has meant steady profits, but for the global poor in desperate need of affordable drugs, those lofty prices are often a matter of life and death.” They continue, “Nevertheless, members of the Obama administration continue to pursue policies around drug pricing that multiple United Nations groups, the World Health Organization, human rights lawyers and patient advocates worldwide decry.”
Speakers at Tuesday’s plenary session at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. highlighted the challenges that lie ahead in the response to HIV/AIDS and discussed potential solutions, ABC News reports (Duwell, 7/25). Bernhard Schwartlander, director for evidence, strategy and results at UNAIDS, “highlighted the many new possibilities for collaboration, activism, and financing for the AIDS response as economic growth is rapidly changing the global order,” UNAIDS reports in a feature story (7/24). “A lot of very clever and dedicated people are working very hard in making sure that services are delivered more efficiently, and … more people receive HIV services with the same amount of money,” he said at the session, PlusNews writes (7/25). According to UNAIDS, Schwartlander “outlined a number of innovative financing methods … such as the financial transaction tax; front-loading investments for health through bonds; or utilizing fines paid by pharmaceutical companies for anti-competitive practices for health assistance” (7/24).