America's biopharmaceutical research companies are working on 100 new medicines and vaccines to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS and related conditions, according to a new report from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
“We can say with confidence and conviction that we have broken the trajectory of the AIDS pandemic”
Although scientists have made phenomenal advances in understanding the disease and have discovered 31 approved medicines used to control the virus in different ways, there is still no cure and no vaccine to prevent transmission. Moreover, the virus has proved its capacity to mutate and become resistant to available treatments, resulting in a constant need for new medicines.
"We have progressed in just a few decades from having no medicines available for HIV/AIDS patients to having highly effective treatments - even against multi-drug-resistant forms of the virus," said John Castellani, PhRMA's President and CEO. "We have moved from complicated drug cocktails that needed to be taken around the clock to simple, once-a-day treatments. However, we have not defeated HIV/AIDS, and we cannot afford to become complacent."
Many novel approaches are being taken to stay a step ahead of the disease. For example, a medicine under development is designed to spare healthy cells by attacking only infected cells, and a new class of anti-HIV medicines is intended to prevent the HIV virus from breaking through cell membranes. One vaccine being worked on is administered through a skin patch, while another vaccine in development uses a weakened common cold adenovirus that helps boost the immune system.
More than a million Americans are living with HIV infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New and better treatments have slashed U.S. death rates. Between 1995 and 1997 alone - a period when highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART) was approved for patients, U.S. death rates fell by 63%. As of 2007, the U.S. death rate from AIDS had fallen by 77% compared to 1995 levels.
Still, more than 18,000 people with AIDS die each year in the United States, according to the CDC. A more reliable and advanced surveillance system recently led the CDC to increase the estimated number of new cases per year in the U.S. from 40,000 to 56,300.
Of all Americans living with AIDS, 46% reside in the South, 29% in the Northeast, 20% in the West and 11% in the Midwest, according to recent CDC estimates. The five metropolitan areas with the highest number of reported cases are, in descending order, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.
Although HIV/AIDS continues to take a terrible toll, a new UNAIDS report revealed heartening news: The rate of new HIV infections has dropped nearly 20% over the last decade. "We can say with confidence and conviction that we have broken the trajectory of the AIDS pandemic," said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. Still, an estimated 7,000 people a day worldwide continue to be newly infected - a number that could be cut drastically by a vaccine. Currently, American biopharmaceutical research companies have 33 vaccines in development.
Biopharmaceutical companies contributed more than $9.2 billion to improve health care in the developing world from 2007-2009, the latest dates for which data are available, according to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA). Projects included HIV/AIDS clinics, education and prevention programs and initiatives to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America