In these scanning electron micrographs from Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego, multitudinous HIV-1 particles exit from a cultured HeLa cell. The image is false-colored.
HIV prevention in a pill
Just three decades ago, a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was akin to a death sentence. Infected persons often had just months to live. A lot has changed, particularly since the advent of antiretroviral drugs. Prescribed in the early stages of the infection, these drugs (usually taken in combination) often reduce HIV/AIDS to a chronic but livable condition. Patients can enjoy relatively normal, full lives for decades after diagnosis.
HIV/AIDS research may be on the cusp of the next, big advancement: Today, the California HIV/AIDS Research Program of the University of California announced three grants totaling more than $11 million to test a potential HIV prevention pill among high-risk HIV-uninfected persons in California. One of the teams is based at UC San Diego and headed by lead project investigator Richard Haubrich, MD, a professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Antiviral Research Center.
Haubrich, with colleagues at UC San Diego and elsewhere, will enroll 400 study participants identified at high-risk of contracting an HIV/AIDS infection. (These are uninfected men who have sex with men or transgender women, all living in San Diego, Los Angeles and Long Beach). Each study participant will receive with a daily pill that combines two antiretroviral drugs (tenofovir and emtricitabine), manufactured and provided for the study by Gilead Sciences, Inc. The prevention pill is part of a larger intervention effort called “Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis with antiretroviral drugs” or PrEP. The researchers will also develop and study ways to help identify, engage and retain HIV-infected persons in interventional treatment programs.
“There is no question that biomedical HIV prevention strategies, such as PrEP in HIV-uninfected and initiation of early antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected people, can prevent future HIV infection,” said Haubrich. “The key is to empower people to initiate and maintain strict adherence to therapy. Ultimately, we hope these efforts will result in a reduction of new HIV infections in high-risk populations and improved clinical outcome for those who are currently HIV-infected.”
The UC San Diego-based program received a $5.6 million grant and will run for four years. The other two, related efforts are based at UC Los Angeles and the East Bay AIDS Center in Oakland. You can read the full news release from the UC Office of the President here.