March 25, 2016
Josh Agee is the PrEP Coordinator at My Brother’s Keeper in Mississippi where he educates individuals about PrEP, assess their risk of HIV and navigates insurance plans for PrEP users. He is currently a Fellow at the Black AIDS Institute’s African American HIV University.
#CROI2016 was truly an amazing experience for me. I had the chance to learn about new scientific advancement and new tools that could expand the prevention options for my community. The new treatment and prevention strategies are exciting and offer a level of promise that my community is looking for since the current options aren’t doing enough for us.
Sometimes I reflect on history and where this epidemic has been and where it might be going. I think about the things that we once thought were beyond our grasp but now seem within our reach. I think how we’ve progressed from AZT to PrEP to potentially using broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) for prevention. Researchers first identified an HIV bNAb in 2009 from a person living with HIV. Subsequently, bNAbs were proven to be highly effective in neutralizing HIV in vitro in the lab and were able to neutralize over 90 percent of HIV strains. Science has given us the promise that this could be a new strategy, and we now have begun moving the testing of bNAbs out of the labs and into clinical trials.
At the conference it was discussed, as is the case of HIV treatment, which uses several classes of antiretrovirals per regimen, that a combination of antibodies might also be effective. These monoclonal bNAbs might be more efficient combined with other monoclonal bNAbs to increase their coverage of known HIV strains. The more, the merrier might be the way to go in this strategy. It is time to see if it is something that shows promise and might be our next big breakthrough. The only way to know if this will be an effective strategy is to test this in a real world setting. Future studies with bNAbs will include administering them to populations that are at high risk for HIV acquisition. This particular research stood out to me. It is a different approach that sparked my curiosity to see where this research might take the field.
The call for needing another option could not have been clearer than when the CDC made its announcement about lifetime risk for individuals. With the CDC’s release that 1 in 2 black MSM are projected to acquire HIV in their lifetime, it is imperative that we broaden our prevention toolbox and make it accessible to the community. These staggering numbers have also prompted me to take more action in my community as I realize the state of our emergency. I plan to do more innovative community outreach and educate our community on HIV treatment and prevention. While keeping a close eye on options and making sure my community is aware that help is on the way. And more options to meet their needs are coming.