HIV/AIDS research under FP6
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the causative agent of AIDS, is spreading
worldwide with devastating consequences. During the last 20 years, the disease has
killed 20 million people and, today, more than 40 million people are living with the virus.
Since HIV was first identified, researchers and policy-makers have been working to
reduce the spread of the epidemic and provide adequate treatment to those infected.
Unfortunately, efforts so far have been unable to provide a vaccine or a definitive cure
for this killer. To stop the progression of the pandemic, research on prevention and
treatment has been reinforced.
New preventive strategies
Funding research into new preventive strategies against HIV/AIDS is central to the
European Commission’s (EC) research programme. Co-operative research projects
are currently being funded in two main areas, namely microbicides and vaccines,
allowing the best research teams in Europe and Africa to join forces. Co-operation
is the key to reaching the objectives to win the battle against HIV/AIDS.
Microbicides are one of the most promising tools for preventing HIV infection. While condoms are an effective way of protection, and remain one of the few means to control the spread of the disease, many women around the world are unable to practise safe sex. The development of a vaginal microbicide to prevent sexual transmission of the virus would give these women the power to protect their lives. Under the first call for proposals of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the Commission has financed two integrated projects on microbicides: European Microbicides project (EMPRO), and Selection and Development of Microbicides for Mucosal Use to Prevent Sexual HIV Transmission/Acquisition (SHIVA). Both are complementary and focused on the discovery of new products, up to early human testing. Moreover, a highly innovative project on the use of RNA aptamers, both as microbicides and drugs (VirApt), is complementing previous approaches.
The development of an effective vaccine will provide the ultimate protection against HIV infection; unfortunately, past expectations have not been fulfilled so far. The complexity of this endeavour is calling for renewed coordinated initiatives at a global level. The EC is promoting and funding Europewide collaborative efforts to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine and is calling on the Member States to coordinate their national research policies.
During the first years of FP6, the EC has concentrated efforts on finding new innovative approaches for vaccine development, broadening the previous vaccine portfolio. Integrated projects on vaccine research cover basic, preclinical and early clinical testing. The AVIP integrated project is using both structural and regulatory HIV gene products for developing a new and promising vaccine; MUVAPRED, another vaccineintegrated project, focuses on the development of Mucosal Vaccines for Poverty Related Diseases; RMVHIV uses Recombinant Measles as a Vector for HIV vaccines; and DECVAC is targeting Dendritic Cells for developing both prophylactic and therapeutic vaccine candidates. The funding of smallscale, highly innovative approaches has been implemented during FP6 with the aim of opening new avenues for research in this field. These projects include the development of new vaccine delivery systems, new adjuvants and a new antigen design.
New treatment options
In order to better synergise European research on new preventive technologies, the EC is financing EUROPRISE, a Network of Excellence (NoE) including both Microbicides and Vaccine researchers. This newly funded NoE includes about 15 European research projects funded by both the European Commission and the Gates Foundation, representing more than 132 institutions from 22 countries. EUROPRISE will promote an integrated programme for European research on new preventive strategies.
The current antiHIV drugs have succeeded in reducing the number of HIVrelated deaths. However, these antiretroviral therapies have some limitations: they are expensive and therefore not available everywhere, they are complicated to follow, and have longterm side effects. Moreover, current treatments cannot eradicate the virus from the human body and are facing evergrowing resistances. To overcome these limitations, the European Union is funding highly innovative research projects aimed at exploring completely new approaches for treatment.
Under the first call for proposals, two integrated projects on therapeutic approaches were selected: Targeting Replication and Integration of HIV (TRIoH) focused mainly on the HIV integrase and reverse transcriptase, and Recombinant Pharmaceuticals from Plants for Human Health (PHARMAPLANTA) aimed at producing antiHIV neutralising antibodies in plants. In addition, highly innovative projects on new therapies targeting latency and budding are currently being funded.
The European Union is also financing a network of cohort studies where more than 150 clinical laboratories from both the European Union and Eastern Europe are joining efforts to improve treatment options for HIVinfected people. The different projects involved include clinical work on mothertochild transmission and infected children (PENTAECS), infected adults (EUROSIDA), seroconversion (CASCADE) and resistance to antiHIV drugs (Europe HIV Resistance).
In addition to these efforts, the Network for European AIDS Treatment, NEAT, will further strengthen European HIV clinical research capacity by building a clinical and laboratory network for the treatment of people leaving with HIV/AIDS. A core of 41 partners from 16 countries, representing more than 350 affiliated clinical centres will develop strategic approaches for the treatment of HIV infection and AIDS, complementing clinical research conducted by the pharmaceutical industry.
The EC's multifaceted approach is aimed at improving research concerning the prevention of future infections and the treatment of people currently living with HIV/AIDS. The EC research strategy is integrated into European development, trade and health policies. Within the public health effort, research is our best longterm hope in the fight against HIV/AIDS.