Gearing up for CROI: What is the state of private funding for HIV/AIDS-related research?

February 20, 2015

This article was first published in Funders Concerned about AIDS

At the end of February the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) will bring together researchers and advocates from around the world to share the latest studies, important developments and best research methods in the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS and related infectious diseases. According to AVAC, data is expected at CROI on several important trials, including the first data on non-daily use of Truvada as post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and results on the efficacy of 1% tenofovir gel from the FACTS 001 microbicide trial.

Philanthropy – led by the efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Wellcome Trust – continues to fund important parts of HIV prevention research & development (R&D), such as the funding of young investigators, or helping to support new research initiatives2. In 2013, FCAA identified roughly $240 mil in funding to support HIV/AIDS-related research efforts[1]. This included support for HIV prevention R&D, as well as supportive research efforts studying trends in behavior, and the impact of such issues as stigma on access to care.

According to HIV Prevention Research & Development Investment in 2013: In a changing global development, economic, and human rights landscape[2] —the most recent annual report by the HIV Vaccines and Microbicides Resource Tracking Working Group – funding for HIV prevention R&D declined by US$50 million in 2013, or four percent, compared to 2012. The US government continues to be the largest funder of HIV prevention R&D efforts, accounting for nearly 70% of the total investment. However, US public-sector support also decreased by nearly $38 million from 2012. The data also show funding declines in nearly every category of HIV prevention R&D underscoring an urgent need to sustain and diversify funding sources through partnerships between governments, philanthropies, and the biopharmaceutical industry. Philanthropic funding represented just 15% of total HIV prevention R&D investment in 2013, an almost 5% decrease from 2012.

Why should we be talking about this now?

With decreased funding for HIV prevention R&D, and the field so heavily reliant on US public sector support, philanthropy is poised to play an important role by funding new and innovative research, and in helping to ensure proven interventions and technologies are successfully rolled out. One opportunity for the philanthropic sector is underscored by data showing that funding for PrEP-related R&D increased by $5 million in 2013, due in part to a number of new demonstration and implementation projects focused on the use of PrEP in different settings3, such as support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for PrEP demonstration projects in Africa.

As another timely example, FACTS 001 data soon to be presented at CROI will confirm whether tenofovir gel, used before and after sex, can prevent HIV infection. If effective, the conversation turns to how to implement it as a prevention tool in the real world. If not, then focus will turn to other options in the R&D pipeline that will require continued funding to ensure their successful rollout. And both options, of course, require new ideas, new energy and increased funding.

Stay tuned to AVAC (@hivpxresearch #CROI2015) for exciting CROI news and potential opportunities for philanthropic investment in HIV prevention R&D. Please also share your questions on, or examples and impact of, funding research via @FCAA #AIDSfunding or

There’s room for all sizes of support and funders. Here are just a few examples of what funders supported in 2013:

  • The Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) is currently supporting research projects including one focused on behavioral patterns among young men who have sex with men, on male circumcision for prevention in the Caribbean and on the effects of HIV treatment on babies and children.
  • The Fondation de France supports a research project focused on developing new blood tests for tuberculosis (TB) that could be used with an HIV-infected pediatric population.
  • amfAR continues to bring top scientists together through its amfAR Research Consortium on HIV Eradication (ARCHE) to develop collaborative studies that will generate creative ideas and shorten the time it will take to find a cure for HIV.
  • In addition to scientific research projects related to areas such as HIV vaccine and microbicide development and HIV/TB immune response, The Wellcome Trust conducts other wide-ranging research projects, including a project evaluating the impact of scaled-up evidence-based treatment and prevention services in Zimbabwe.