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New Report: Investment trends for HIV prevention and cure R&D

It is said success breeds success. 2016 was a year of encouraging progress, indeed success, on a number of HIV prevention fronts. Two trials of the dapivirine vaginal ring showed efficacy, a spate of new vaccine and antibody trials began, and a trial of long-acting injectable PrEP launched.

Those developments are successes by any measure, and yet this year’s funding report from the Resource Tracking for HIV Prevention Research & Development Working Group (Working Group) shows that prevention funding continues to slowly decline overall. Over the same time, cure research got a big bump from global funders. A separate cure-focused brief from the Working Group, developed in partnership with the International AIDS Society (IAS), showed investment in cure research tripled since 2012.

Global HIV Prevention R&D Investment by Technology Category

Released today, the Working Group’s latest annual report on global investment in biomedical HIV prevention shows that overall funding for HIV prevention research and development (R&D) has fallen to its lowest level in a decade.

The prevention research report notes that funding for preventive vaccine research constituted the bulk of all investments, followed by investments in cure, microbicides, prevention of mother-to child transmission (PMTCT), PrEP, medical male circumcision (VMMC), treatment as prevention (TasP) and female condoms. Over half of the HIV prevention option tracked by the working group experienced a decline. These trends are somewhat reflective of the cyclical nature of large-scale clinical trials—when trials end, funding drops off. Likewise, as some interventions enter full-scale rollout, like PrEP, VMMC and TasP, research in this area can be expected to slow down. Nevertheless, the overall trends bear close watching and strong advocacy to ensure that research continues. The progress of this research in the context of flat funding should not be misconstrued. Flat funding will not get us where we need to go next.

Taking stock of all that’s been accomplished with a decade of flat funding, it’s important to note that two million people continue to be infected each year. To achieve control of the epidemic, the field must also take stock of what could be achieved with the right priorities.

The right products need to be tested in the populations who need them most, and research does not always connect well to the people who are most at risk. The report explores the demographic breakdown of almost 700,000 participants in ongoing HIV prevention trials in 2016, with the majority of these volunteers residing in sub-Saharan Africa, most notably in treatment as prevention trials in Botswana, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. Only one in eight trial participants in 2016 belonged to a population most affected by HIV, including MSM and transgender women, injection drug users and cisgender women.

An intensifying trend towards a small number of large investors is concerning. Together, the US public sector and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) represented 88 percent of the total global investment in 2016, compared to 81 percent in 2015. Simply put, for every dollar spent on HIV prevention R&D in 2016, 88 cents came from just two donors.

On a hopeful note, global investment in research toward an HIV cure increased to US$268 million, a 33 percent increase over 2015 levels, with a number of new funders, and an expanded research portfolio at the US National Institutes of Health. The majority of investments (US$253.2 million) came from the public sector with US$13.8 million invested by philanthropies such as Aids Fonds, amfAR, CANFAR, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sidaction and Wellcome Trust.

This is a vigorous period in research and development, reflecting a growing recognition from the global community that research has to be part of the long-term fight to end the HIV epidemic. Now is the time to support continued progress with additional, well-targeted resources.

The Resource Tracking Working Group hopes these reports will serve as tools for advocacy and be used to develop public policy that accelerates scientific progress. We thank all of the individuals who contributed data to the report and who gave time and effort as trial participants.

Check out the report, share it with your fellow advocates, and be sure to let us know if your organization is either a funder or recipient of HIV prevention grants or if you have further questions or information about resource tracking at all!