HIV 'cure' at risk from budget cuts

deborah persaud johns hopkins childrens center
Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children's Center led research that cured HIV in a toddler. But the budget cuts will cut into funding for the National Institutes of Health, which co-funded the HIV research.

The automatic cuts in federal spending known as sequestration could take a bite out of crucial medical research, such as the recently unveiled study in which a toddler was cured of HIV.

The National Institutes of Health, which co-funded the study, stands to lose $1.6 billion of its $31 billion budget through September as a result of the sequester, which went into effect on Friday. As the largest supporter of biomedical research in the United States, it could slash funding for hundreds of research programs, such as the HIV case.

The NIH, in conjunction with the Foundation for AIDS Research, also known as amfAR, paid for the research of the child who was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Chris Collins, vice president of public policy for amfAR, said there was a "cruel irony" to the timing of the HIV cure discovery and sequestration.

"As we've heard this exciting news about cure research, the entire AIDS research field is experiencing a significant cutback," said Collins. "If we were in the business of ending AIDS, this would be the time to invest, not pull our resources out."

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Doctors used a mix of antiretroviral drugs to sweep the HIV out of the Mississippi toddler, who is now free of the infection, according to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

According to the NIH, the child was given a triple-cocktail of drugs including Epivir, made by GlaxoSmithKline (GLAXF), Viramune, made by Boehringer Ingelhim, and zidovudine, made by Ranbaxy Laboratories and other generic drugmakers. The child was then treated with a Kaletra drug combination produced by Abbott (ABT) Laboratories.

Such a drug combo costs between $15,000 and $18,000, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, a division of the NIH.

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The sequestration will prompt cuts in long-running research programs that the NIH is already committed to, said Fauci.

"In the long run, it will hurt," he said.

Fauci said it might also keep future research projects from getting off the ground, which could dissuade scientists from entering the field of research.

"In general, it's a dampening effect in the whole field," he said.

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