Carl Dieffenbach, Ph.D. (Credit: Sony Salzman)
It is fitting that in the year that we marked the 35th anniversary of the first recognition of what would come to be known as HIV, we've taken major steps toward revolutionizing how we could prevent this disease. In 2016 we began four important clinical studies that promise to inform HIV prevention research, which may result in new tools that can be deployed around the world to help people at risk from HIV infection.
Recently, participants began to enroll in the first large-scale clinical trial of a long-acting injectable drug for HIV prevention. The study, called HPTN 083, will examine whether a long-acting form of the investigational anti-HIV drug cabotegravir injected once every 8 weeks can safely protect men and transgender women from HIV infection at least as well as the anti-HIV oral medication Truvada, the only licensed pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) regimen. If injectable cabotegravir is found to be effective for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, it may be easier for some people to adhere to than a daily pill. Stay tuned for updates on a study of this novel strategy in women, slated to begin in 2017.
NIH is also testing HIV prevention options that address the unique needs of women, such as a drug-infused vaginal ring. The ring reduced the risk of HIV infection by a modest 27 percent in a large clinical trial reported this year, though additional analyses suggest that this product may be much more effective when used regularly. A follow-on study called HOPE launched in July, to help clarify the relationship between patterns of use of the ring and efficacy. This study will also help us understand better the complexities women face when adhering to a vaginal ring.
In November, we announced the start of HVTN 702, a large HIV vaccine efficacy trial in South Africa that is the first HIV vaccine efficacy study to launch anywhere in seven years. This trial tests a new and Southern Africa-specific version of the only HIV vaccine candidate ever shown to provide some protection against the virus. HVTN 702 aims to enroll 5,400 men and women, making it the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to take place in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people become infected with HIV every day. If deployed alongside our current armory of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could dramatically reduce new HIV infections.
We are always striving to gain critical insights that can inform HIV prevention and vaccine science. To that end, in April NIH launched the Antibody-Mediated Prevention Trial (AMP) in men and women to test whether a broadly neutralizing antibody delivered intravenously is safe, tolerable and effective at preventing HIV infection. Many scientists believe that if an HIV vaccine could elicit these potent antibodies in people, they could be protected from infection.
As the science has advanced this past year, it's been my pleasure to be able to share updates with you in real time via Facebook Live. AIDS.gov has been a pioneering force in exploring how this new video streaming tool can be used to keep our community aware of the importance of viral suppression, breaking news from scientific conferences, and other events all over the world. As you celebrate the New Year, check out some of the most exciting moments in HIV research that we shared on Facebook Live in 2016.
Carl Dieffenbach, Ph.D., is director of the Division of AIDS, NIAID.