HIV research has made remarkable progress since scientists first identified the disease in the 1980s. There are new prevention methods and therapies to extend the lives of those living with the disease. So what does the future hold for HIV research? Here’s a look at what’s on the horizon.
Stopping the spread of HIV is an important step toward ending the outbreak of the disease around the world. Today, there are several methods to slow HIV, and scientists are working on new tools.
HIV is constantly evolving into new strains. This makes it hard to develop a vaccine, but scientists are making progress. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is researching two HIV vaccines and testing them in people around the world. The goal of these vaccines is to turn on an immune response to a wide range of HIV strains.
Another vaccine candidate from IAVI and Scripps Research works by prompting the immune system to turn on in response to different versions and mutations of HIV. Early research results show it’s 97% effective.
Researchers are also working on HIV prevention methods that last for months or even years. They could offer new choices for protecting yourself against the virus or improve products that you already use.
- Vaginal ring: This flexible silicone ring steadily releases the anti-HIV drug dapivirine. You replace it monthly. Women ages 18 to 45 who took part in two large clinical trials lowered their chance of HIV infection by about 30% when using it.
- Injections: Researchers are studying injections that could protect you from HIV for as long as 1 to 6 months. One is a long-acting form of the HIV medicine cabotegravir. You get it as a shot once every 8 weeks. Studies show it may be just as safe and work better than the daily oral drug emtricitabine/tenofovir.
- Implants: One promising new technology is long-acting implants in your arm. The matchstick-sized implant slowly releases an anti-HIV drug and could offer protection against HIV for 1 year or longer. Several of these implants are in the works but are still in the early stages of development.
- Oral pills: Researchers are also studying a pill that could protect you from HIV for 30 days. Two other HIV prevention pills, Truvada and Descovy, have been around for years, but you take them daily. Research shows that although these drugs lower your chance of getting HIV by anywhere from 74% to 99%, many people aren’t aware of them or are afraid they would be shamed for taking them.
- Monoclonal antibodies: These lab-created immune system proteins may work to prevent HIV. Scientists are looking at how a mix of assorted antibodies could be a tool in long-term HIV prevention and treatment.
There’s no cure for HIV, but medicine can help you manage the disease and ward off other health problems. Scientists and drugmakers continue to develop new treatments for people living with HIV, turning their focus to long-acting therapies.
Once-monthly HIV therapy
In January 2021, the FDA approved the first long-acting injectable treatment for adults with HIV. Cabenuva is a combo of two drugs (cabotegravir and rilpivirine) that you take as a shot once a month. It’s considered a breakthrough in treatment since most HIV drugs require a daily dose.
Researchers are also developing an injectable drug that could offer another option in the future. Lenacapavir, also known as GS-6207, is a single-shot drug that lowers the level of HIV in your blood. It could last for more than 6 months, meaning you would only need treatment twice a year.
One small survey of people living with HIV shows that more people prefer long-acting shots than pills you take every day. Most (73%) who responded to the survey said they’re definitely or probably interested in trying an injectable. This type of medicine could help with issues of missed doses and medical privacy.
Other HIV treatments
The FDA has also recently approved two other drugs to treat HIV in kids and adults.
- Dolutegravir (Tivicay) for children: There are 1.8 million children (birth to 14 years old) living with HIV. This drug is the first integrase inhibitor (a class of anti-HIV drugs) dissolved in water that’s available for children as young as 4 weeks old.
- Fostemsavir (Rukobia): This medicine is an attachment inhibitor (antiretroviral drug) for adults who haven’t had success with other HIV treatments.
Living and Aging With HIV
People who are HIV positive are living longer thanks to advances in treatment, but they still live shorter lives than people without the virus. One study shows that people diagnosed with HIV at age 21 live to around age 56, compared to age 65 for HIV-negative adults.
At the same time, more people are aging with HIV. People 50 and older are thought to be the largest HIV-positive group in the U.S. They make up around 17% of new infections. Older adults with HIV face age-related physical and mental health challenges such as a higher chance of other lifelong health issues and “layered” stigma due to their HIV status, age, and other identities.
Researchers say improving HIV treatment programs and removing stigma are critical to improving the quality of life of people living with HIV and one day stamping out the disease.