But as 18,000 people gathered this week in Durban, South Africa, for the 21st International AIDS Conference, the prospect of a cure is plausible enough that it is attracting increasing amounts of money, scientific research and attention.
Discussion of a cure will lead off the conference, which comes little more than a month after the United Nations committed to action to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, despite formidable obstacles.
Leaders of the global battle against HIV have described 2016 as a pivotal year in their effort.
“Achieving such a cure is one of the great scientific challenges ever undertaken,” Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, one of the discoverers of the virus, told reporters in a news briefing. “Our challenge is to take the science forward.”
The vast majority of the money comes from governments around the world.
Last Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health awarded $30 million annually for the next five years to six U.S. research centers working toward a cure.
Also scheduled for this fall is a large-scale clinical trial of an HIV vaccine, which will be conducted in South Africa and co-funded by NIH.
“The two greatest challenges remaining in HIV/AIDS research are finding a cure and developing a safe and effective preventive vaccine,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is leading the vaccine trial.
Research scheduled to be presented at the AIDS conference includes several strategies for a cure, including gene editing and stem-cell therapy. The positive long-term impact of antiretroviral therapy also will be discussed.
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