The virologist credited with co-discovering HIV has made a call for revising the way cure research is conducted, advising her colleagues to move away from studying individual agents and to leverage a new system that would allow them to shift quickly into testing combination treatment approaches. Nobel laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a virologist at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, cowrote an essay in The Lancet HIV with Jintanat Anaworanich, MD, PhD, a pediatrician and immunologist at the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, in which the two scientists argue for this overhaul of the nascent cure research effort.

“Our proposed data-driven approach to combination cure research is designed to accelerate efforts to transform HIV from an incurable disease to one where we can achieve durable remissions,” Dr. Barré-Sinoussi said in a press release.

In July, Barré-Sinoussi stunned many in the HIV community when she told CNN that she felt that developing a cure for HIV, in which the virus is completely eliminated from the body, “is almost impossible.” Many missed the finer points of her message, however, as she explained that a state of “viral remission,” in which the virus is brought to very low levels, is a more viable goal. More than a dozen of her countrymen, all of whom were treated for HIV with standard antiretrovirals (ARVs) within six months of contracting the virus, have entered such a state of remission.

HIV cure research, which is in what leaders in the field characterize as a search-and-discovery phase, appears unlikely to produce a single therapy that can lead to long-term viral remission. The essay’s authors argue that the standard research model promises slow progress, specifically over the next five years, toward finding effective treatments in this realm. First individual therapies are tested for safety and potency in animals, and, if promising, move into human trials. This process must be repeated when therapies are used in combination. All this takes considerable time.

Drs. Barré-Sinoussi and Anaworanich outline a pathway by which scientists could run parallel animal and human studies, by selecting the combinations of treatments from non-human or animal laboratory studies as well as other human-related data. This could allow scientists to work more efficiently and enter combination therapies into Phase II human trials much faster.

To read a new POZ feature article about the state of HIV cure research, click here.

To read a press release about the editorial, click here.

To read the abstract of the editorial, click here.