The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Albert Einstein College of Medicine a five-year, $11.3 million grant to renew the Einstein-Rockefeller-CUNY Center for AIDS Research (ERC-CFAR) and expand its efforts to prevent, treat and cure HIV infection, and thereby reduce the burden of HIV, locally, nationally, and internationally.
The ERC-CFAR-;the only CFAR in New York and one of 19 current NIH-funded CFARs nationwide-;was established in 2017 to bring together researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Rockefeller University, and The City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY) to realize the ultimate goal of living in a world without AIDS. For this purpose, the center supports studies involving more than 150 independent investigators focused on four areas: lowering the incidence of HIV; developing next-generation HIV therapies; discovering a cure for HIV; and treating HIV-related comorbidities, coinfections, and complications.
Aiming to end the HIV epidemic
Under the new grant, the ERC-CFAR will continue these activities and add new projects to support the federal "Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S." plan. Launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2019, the initiative aims to reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. by 90% by the year 2030 by developing and scaling up effective HIV prevention and treatment strategies and specifically address racial, ethnic, and geographic disparities that have hampered HIV prevention efforts.
To a large extent, we have the tools to control this epidemic, including drugs that suppress HIV in infected individuals to undetectable levels and prevent new infections. A key challenge is getting these medications to the people who need them. This is an important issue we need to address among those from historically marginalized groups, particularly Black and Hispanic Americans, who are disproportionately affected by this epidemic."
Harris Goldstein, M.D., director of the ERC-CFAR, professor of pediatrics and of microbiology & immunology, the Charles Michael Chair in Autoimmune Diseases, and associate dean for scientific resources at Einstein and an allergy & immunology physician at Montefiore Health System
In 2019, almost one-quarter of the 128,000 people living with HIV in New York City did not receive antiretroviral therapy (ART), while one-quarter of those at high risk for HIV infection did not receive pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent infection. The ERC-CFAR will address these shortfalls by supporting research initiatives identifying more effective and targeted approaches to expand PrEP uptake and to increase ART adherence in populations who have historically struggled to maintain viral suppression. In parallel, the ERC-CFAR will support the translation of basic research on HIV pathogenesis and eradication into clinical studies evaluating new strategies to prevent, treat, and cure HIV infection.
Along with Dr. Goldstein, the ERC-CFAR is co-led by three associate directors, Denis Nash, Ph.D., at CUNY, Einstein and Montefiore's Betsy Herold, M.D., and Marina Caskey, M.D., at Rockefeller.
The new funding represents a 50% increase over ERC-CFAR's first five-year NIH grant. The center became eligible for this higher tier of support because of the success of its Einstein, Rockefeller and CUNY researchers in increasing their current annual NIH HIV/AIDS research funding level, beyond funding from the ERC-CFAR program, to greater than $40 million.
The increased funding will enable the ERC-CFAR to expand services provided by its four scientific cores, including a biomarkers and advanced technology core led by Einstein's Joan Berman, Ph.D., and Steven Almo, Ph.D.; behavioral and implementation science core led by Laurie Bauman, Ph.D., at Einstein and Sarit Golub, Ph.D., at CUNY; clinical and translational science core led by Einstein and Montefiore's Kathryn Anastos, M.D.; and developmental core led by Vinayaka Prasad, M.D., at Einstein, Theodora Hatziioannou, Ph.D., at Rockefeller, Christian Grov, Ph.D., M.P.H., at CUNY, and Julia Arnsten, M.D., M.P.H., at Einstein and Montefiore.
"The purpose of the first three cores is to provide existing HIV investigators with all of the resources needed to conduct cutting-edge research," said Dr. Goldstein. "The developmental core provides the intellectual, logistical, and financial support to mentor the next generation of HIV researchers, recruit established non-HIV investigators into the field, and forge new collaborations within our ERC-CFAR and with other institutions across the region."
The ERC-CFAR also established a new scientific working group led by Einstein and Montefiore's Vilma Gabbay, M.D., and Anjali Sharma, M.D., M.S., which will work with local communities to develop and evaluate strategies to reduce the impact of mental health disorders, such as depression, which affect almost half of those living with HIV in New York City, greatly reducing their health, quality of life and medication adherence.