This year, The Wistar Institute hosted the Annual Jonathan Lax Memorial Award Lecture virtually, bringing together HIV scientists and activists on a global stage. Celebrating 26 years of continuous HIV research collaboration, the event was streamed on June 28, 2022, and saw attendees from North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The event opened with a music video by Moses “Supercharger” Nsubuga, HIV Outreach and HIV Cure Research Advocate and musician from Uganda and the Stigmaless Band performing their song “Optimistic”. It set a positive and engaging tone, reminding everyone that researchers and activists are working toward a common goal of HIV cures that prevent, control, and treat the virus.
The keynote speaker delivering the Lax Lecture was Mike McCune, M.D., Ph.D., head of the HIV Frontiers Initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who emphasized the scientific progress toward curative interventions for HIV for all parts of the world. He highlighted efforts toward the development of gene therapies and “single shot” vaccine candidates and looking forward to clinical trials.
McCune expanded on his view of the ideal HIV cure. It would be available in an outpatient clinic; it would be given in one shot—like a vaccine—and durable for three years, yet a lifetime would be ideal; it must prevent or control infection but doesn’t require complete eradication; and it would be affordable for underdeveloped nations/low-income nations at $1000-2000 per administration. Also, McCune mentioned creating an affordable home testing kit, similar to COVID-19 test kits, for people to monitor if the disease is under control.
McCune shared, “We need to have a long-term vision and we need to have steps along the way that show we’re moving towards it.”
The event also hosted a panel centered around the question “What does an HIV cure mean to you?”. The global community discussion included Moses “Supercharger” from Uganda; Philister Adhiambo, Community Liaison Officer and HIV Cure Advocate from Kenya; and Michael Louella, Community Engagement Project Manager of the defeatHIV collaborative in the U.S. They all agreed that research can move forward if it prioritizes the community. Their strong perpectives came from the realities they see every day in their communities: participation in cure-directed studies, of being female with HIV/AIDS, living with HIV/AIDS in low- and middle-income countries outside the U.S., remaining on antiretrovirals for decades not knowing the toll it takes on their bodies, and stigmatized people that lost opportunities because they were HIV positive.
“26 years ago, we set out to make a difference in HIV/AIDS treatment strategies through the most cutting-edge research, done shoulder-to-shoulder with clinicians, advocates, and people living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia,” said Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Endowed Chair Professor, leader of the HIV Research Program at The Wistar Institute, and co-principal investigator of the BEAT-HIV Delaney Collaboratory. “Our program has now grown beyond the region and country to gain a network across the globe. Our mission hasn’t changed, but we have grown into a global center to report the most groundbreaking HIV cure research together with community input.”
McCune stated, “Now is the time to move forward. Solving these challenges is not going to happen overnight, but it’s starting now.”