Madrid – HIV prevention research funding continued to decline in 2017 for the fifth consecutive year, driven largely by a five-year low in US public sector funding, according to a report released today at the HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P 2018) conference in Madrid, Spain.
The Resource Tracking for HIV Prevention R&D Working Group’s 14th annual report, Investing to End the Epidemic, documents funding that fell to the lowest level in more than a decade: In 2017, funding for HIV prevention research and development (R&D) decreased by 3.5 percent (US$40 million) from the previous year, falling to US$1.13 billion.
This declining funding comes at a time of great optimism for research, with a slate of efficacy trials across the prevention pipeline – including major HIV vaccine, passive antibody and next generation PrEP efficacy trials – and critical follow-on research for proven antiretroviral-based prevention options, notably the dapivirine vaginal ring. But it also comes a time when the broader HIV field is grappling with a prevention crisis that is exacerbated by decreased funding for the overall HIV response and a lack of political will to adequately fund a response that will ensure the world meets the ambitious prevention targets to end the epidemic.
The Working Group warns that getting to zero new infections will not only require the expansion of existing options like voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) and oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), but also the development of innovative new products, including long-acting, antiretroviral-based prevention options and a vaccine. Sustained funding is critical to keep the full gamut of HIV prevention research moving forward in a timely manner. Even small declines in funding can delay or sideline promising, new HIV prevention options that are needed to end the HIV epidemic.
“Make no mistake. We are in a prevention crisis and we cannot afford a further funding crisis,” said Mitchell Warren, AVAC executive director. “It is unacceptable that donor funding for HIV prevention research continues to fall year after year even as research is moving new options closer to reality. We need continued and sustained investment to keep HIV prevention research on track to provide the additional tools that are required for sustainable, durable control of the HIV epidemic.”
The US government continued to be the major funder of HIV prevention research, contributing almost three-fourths of overall funding. A decrease of almost six percent, though, brought funding to a five-year low of US$830 million. The Working Group noted that sharp declines in US government funding have a major impact on the biomedical HIV prevention R&D field. With uncertainty around continued political will to fund the HIV response, this trend is extremely worrying.
Together, the US public sector and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) represented 87 percent of the total global investment in 2017, an imbalance that has continued for several years. The Working Group in this year’s report cautioned against the disproportionate impact of shifting donor priorities by these two donors on cutting-edge research, noting that a US$50 million decrease in vaccine R&D in 2017 was largely attributed to cuts from the US government, while a 67 percent increase in VMMC funding in 2017 is due largely to enhanced investment from BMGF. The Working Group renewed a call to diversify the funding base to ensure both the sustainability of the field and that decades of gains made in scientific innovation are not lost to fluctuating investment.
The Working Group noted with concern that funding by the European Commission (EC) dropped by almost half from 2016 to 2017 (US$14.4 million in 2016 to US$7.6 million). Noting increases in public sector funding from Canada, Brazil and the Netherlands, the Working Group called on other European countries to increase investment in critical HIV prevention tools to help end the epidemic and to offset the drop in EC funding.
“A true end to AIDS will only be possible if we can develop and deploy an effective, accessible HIV vaccine and other biomedical innovations to prevent HIV infection,” said Mark Feinberg, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. “Decades of research are paying off with the most exciting advances we’ve seen to date. But progress can only continue with sustained public and private sector investment in HIV prevention R&D.”
As researchers, implementers, advocates and funders gather this week in Madrid to review progress in HIV prevention research, there is much to be optimistic about in HIV science and in the accumulated knowledge of how to end the epidemic. At the same time, sobering changes in the funding and policy environment could imperil future progress and wipe out the progress made. Funding constraints, policy changes, shifting donor priorities and shifting demographics will all play a role in the world’s ability to respond to the continued challenges that HIV presents.
“With 5000 people becoming infected with HIV every day it is critical that we both scale up the effective HIV prevention programmes we currently have and invest in new technologies and solutions so that they can become a reality for the populations most affected by HIV,” said Tim Martineau, Deputy Executive Director, Programme a.i. UNAIDS. “Doing both will avert new infections, save lives and reduce the rising costs of life-long antiretroviral treatment.”
Since 2000, the Resource Tracking for HIV Prevention R&D Working Group (formerly the HIV Vaccines & Microbicides Resource Tracking Working Group) has employed a comprehensive methodology to track trends in research and development (R&D) investments and expenditures for biomedical HIV prevention options. AVAC leads the secretariat of the Working Group, that also includes the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). This year’s report is additionally made possible by the support of several donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American people through the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of AVAC and the Working Group and do not necessarily reflect the views of PEPFAR, USAID or the United States Government. AVAC does not accept funding from the pharmaceutical industry.