The Future Fight of HIV

A talk on optimistic, but pragmatic hopes for HIV cure and vaccine research, led by federal-level experts.

In 2 previous segments of a recent interview with Contagion, Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH, a professor of Public Health and Human Rights in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, discussed recent large-scale research conducted to interpret current HIV epidemiology in the US.

Next, he discussed the history of HIV messaging and goal-setting. To cap the discussion, Beyrer looked to the future: what does HIV research prioritize in the short- and long-term?

To answer that, it’s worthwhile to consider where past work has fallen short.

“I think we have struggled on 2 research fronts,” Beyrer explained. “One is a vaccine, which has eluded us after many, many attempts and trials. And the other is a cure or long-term remission, and that too has proven elusive.”

Beyrer discussed how it’s the “nature of HIV” to be difficult to eradicate: its DNA integration and memory immune function cell-targeting leaves absolutely curative outcomes an unchecked box.

Nonetheless, Beyrer expressed faith in his younger colleagues.

“The next generation of HIV researchers are focused on the cure, and they’re an impressive bunch,” he said. “We have to be optimistic that we will eventually crack the problems in HIV science, but in the meantime, we could do a lot better on the basics with the tools we have. We could really get control of this epidemic if we did better with health equity.”

It doesn’t hurt to have what he called “robust HIV leadership” at the highest federal levels—including a new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director who authored one of his team’s epidemiology articles.

“Rochelle Walensky (MD) is not just a terrific physician, researcher, and HIV expert—but she’s also an outstanding communicator, and that’s going to be very, very important,” Beyrer said.