A Worrying Trend Toward Overreliance on a Few Funders Increased in 2020
Kay Marshall, +1 (347) 249-6375, firstname.lastname@example.org
December 8, 2021 – The annual HIV Prevention Research and Development Investments Report reveals a growing mismatch between the current promise of HIV prevention R&D, and consistent declines in the funding available to both research new HIV prevention approaches and expand access to the prevention tools available today. The 2020 report, based on outreach to 215 funders of HIV prevention R&D in the public, philanthropic and commercial sectors, is the 16th annual report from the Resource Tracking for HIV Prevention Research & Development Working Group.
According to this year’s report, funding for HIV prevention R&D dropped by US$54 million (4.4 percent) in 2020. This second consecutive annual decrease is part of an eight-year trend of flat or declining funding for HIV prevention R&D. The report also finds that financial support for HIV prevention R&D is almost entirely dependent on public sector funders, notably from the United States, and on one key United States-based philanthropic funder, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Commercial sector funding, already extremely low, dropped again in this year’s survey.
“These concerning trends in funding come at a promising but very demanding moment in efforts to control the pandemic,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, which coordinates the Resource Working Group with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). “Funding is declining just as the field confronts a new generation of opportunities and challenges. These include the introduction of injectable cabotegravir for PrEP and the Dapivirine Vaginal Ring, ambitious new global targets for ending the epidemic, initial proof of concept of antibody-based prevention, and the need to rethink HIV vaccine development in light of setbacks in recent trials and the possible promise of mRNA and other vaccine approaches.”
Among the key findings from the annual HIV Prevention Research and Development Investments Report are the following:
HIV prevention R&D is highly overdependent on a few key funders, and much of the world is not contributing at the levels seen in prior years.
- HIV prevention R&D funding relies almost exclusively on the public sector, particularly the US public sector. The trend toward an overdependence on a small number of large investors, which the Working Group has surfaced and cautioned against in the past, intensified further in 2020.
- Globally, the public sector accounts for 86 percent of prevention R&D funding, with 92 percent of that coming from the US public sector.
- European public sector investments represent only 7 percent of the global total. While European public sector investment increased by 57 percent in 2020, it is still barely half of the US$124 million the European public sector contributed in 2009.
- The entire rest of the world accounted for only US$14 million, or just 1 percent of total public sector funding.
- Philanthropic funding, consisting almost exclusively of funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, declined 20 percent in 2020 to US$127 million or 12 percent of the total global investment.
- Reported commercial sector support for HIV prevention R&D, already the lowest segment of investment, fell by 55 percent to US$31 million, or just 3 percent of the total, in 2020. While total commercial investment may be underreported, it is still the smallest piece of the HIV prevention R&D funding pie.
Funding dropped in 2020 across a number of key HIV prevention R&D segments, including:
Preventive vaccine R&D: With two large-scale HIV vaccine trials underway, and dozens of new approaches under investigation, funding for preventive HIV vaccine R&D decreased by 5.5 percent or US$46 million in 2020 to US$802 million. While different European countries have increased or decreased their investments, overall European public sector investment in HIV vaccine R&D decreased 31 percent in 2020, to US$48 million.
R&D for PrEP, including pills, implants and injections: While uptake of oral PrEP grew substantially in 2020, and multiple recent research studies have demonstrated the potential impact of PrEP in the form of long-acting injections, pills, implants and rings, global investment in PrEP R&D declined 2 percent in 2020 to US$107 million. While US public sector donors increased funding for PrEP R&D by 5 percent, and commercial sector investment increased by 21 percent to US$24 million, neither was enough to overcome a 42 percent decline in funding from the philanthropic sector.
Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC): As a number of studies affirmed the efficacy of VMMC over a decade ago, funding in the field is focused on implementation science, behavioral studies and advocacy and policy, each of which is vital to extending the reach and impact of this highly effective prevention tool. Yet investment in VMMC decreased by 37 percent to just US$6 million in 2020, almost all of which came from a single donor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Preventing vertical transmission: Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) remains a key prevention priority, but funding for PMTCT R&D decreased by 29 percent in 2020, from US$35 million to US$25 million. The decline is attributed to the loss of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from the list of PMTCT R&D funders, and to decreases in funding from public donors. US public sector funding for PMTCT R&D fell 22 percent to US$22 million in 2020. European funding also fell more than 60 percent, from US$3.4 million in 2019 to US$1.3 million in 2020.
Only two areas of prevention R&D funding showed small increases in funding, including:
Treatment as Prevention (TasP): Long neglected in HIV prevention investment, funding for TasP R&D increased from $1.7million to US$9 million in 2020. The increase came from philanthropy, notably the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (US$5 million) and the Wellcome Trust (US$1 million).
While TasP R&D funding is small overall, this increase is a hopeful sign that TasP may once again receive its appropriate focus as priority for HIV prevention research.
Microbicides: After multiple years of decline, investment in microbicide R&D registered a very small increase (0.4 percent or US$ 0.6 million) to US$145 million in 2020. Concerningly, there is even less diversity in microbicide funding than in HIV prevention R&D overall, with the public sector providing 99 percent of microbicide R&D resources.
While this tiny increase is a hopeful sign, it does not match the scope of the promise of this approach. One key product, the Dapivirine Vaginal Ring, is now recommended by the WHO as an additional HIV prevention option. In addition, a range of promising microbicide strategies are under investigation. One, a 90-day dual-purpose vaginal ring designed to confer both contraceptive and HIV protection, was found to be effective in early testing.
Pandemic preparedness requires greater investment in HIV, other current health crises
“The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that when there’s political will, global solidarity, and significant financial investments, rapid developments of new prevention technologies such as vaccines happen,” said Shannon Hader, deputy executive director of programme, UNAIDS. “This is the time to mobilize investments in HIV service delivery/prevention research and galvanize momentum to achieve the broader 2025 AIDS targets.”
Methodology: HIV prevention R&D investment figures are collected annually by the Resource Tracking for HIV Prevention R&D Working Group through an email survey. For the present report, the Working Group reached out from February to June 2020 to 215 funders in the public, philanthropic and commercial sectors. Two different types of resource flows were tracked: investments, defined as annual disbursements by funders; and, when available, expenditures, defined as resources directly spent on R&D activities by funding recipients. More information about the report methodology is at www.hivresourcetracking.org/about/methodology.
About the Resource Tracking Working Group: In its 16th annual report, the Resource Tracking for HIV Prevention Research & Development Working Group (“Working Group”) documents research and development spending for the calendar year 2020 and analyzes funding trends spanning twenty years. The Working Group is led by AVAC in partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and UNAIDS.