Long way to go in HIV fight: Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

Burnet Institute

26 October, 2011

Nobel Laureate Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi delivers the 2011 Burnet Oration.

Nobel laureate, Professor Peter Doherty AC gave an entertaining insight into the woman who was at the frontline of HIV research in the early 80s and made the historic breakthrough. Among the special guests were former Directors of the Burnet Institute Professor Ian Gust AO and Professor John Mills and current Board members.

Professor Barré-Sinoussi reflected on the fight against HIV and AIDS, 30 years on, and while she highlighted the significant achievements by the scientific community during those years, her clear message was that “there is still a long way to go.”

“We still have a few challenges, treatment has been a big benefit in reducing mortality by more than 85 percent and there is strong evidence that treatment equals prevention,” Professor Barré-Sinoussi said.

“But the challenge is sustainability of life-long treatment, it’s very expensive in the developing world, plus there are side effects and complications like ageing diseases. We need to work on a vaccine.”

Professor Barré-Sinoussi discussed the prospects of a cure, talking about the ‘Berlin patient’, a man with HIV who was diagnosed with leukaemia. He received a bone marrow transplant with blood which had a special mutation and now the HIV virus is undetected.

“It’s a proof of concept that a cure is possible, but we can’t perform a bone marrow transplant on every HIV patient,” she said.

International funding levels remain a key concern with a decrease in donations folowing the Global Financial Crisis.

Professor Barré-Sinoussi said the Global Fund budget for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is only half what it should be.

“It will be a catastrophe everywhere (if funding isn’t secured), particularly in developing countries where we are seeing progress. We are worried about the consequences of stopping treatment of antiretroviral therapy in patients,” she added.

“International leaders must keep and increase their promises.”

Professor Barré-Sinoussi’s overall message in this year’s Burnet Oration was that the fight against HIV and AIDS is not over, and that scientists needed to join with world leaders, business and communities to continue the global effort.

“30 years on and AIDS mortality and high HIV incidence is still high, so there is an urgent need for therapeutic and vaccine strategies,” she reflected.

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