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World AIDS Day: Breakthroughs in biotechnology are central to the fight against AIDS


01 Dec 2011


Health & Consumers

Thanks to innovation in medicine and increased access to treatment, people infected with HIV and AIDS are living longer and healthier lives.   Marking World AIDS day on December 1st, the UN have estimated that 2.5 million deaths have been avoided worldwide in the past 10 years[1], due in no small part to scientific breakthroughs in biotechnology to treat the infection.

Globally it is estimated that 34 million people are living with HIV[2].  Biotech scientists are working relentlessly to not only improve current medication on the market for HIV but also to find a cure for the disease. Recent breakthroughs in antiretroviral therapy (ART), which consists of the use of at least three antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to suppress the HIV virus thereby stopping the progression of HIV disease, have led to significant progress in the fight against suffering. The treatment is proven to not only stop people dying, but also prevent transmission of the disease to others.  An estimated 6.6 million people currently have access to antiretroviral treatment but a further 9 million are still in need[3].

In a political declaration adopted earlier this year at the United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS, UN member states committed to expanding access to treatment for 15 million people by 2015.  In Europe, measures are already in place to achieve this goal. Earlier this year, European biotechnology scientists launched a clinical trial of an anti-HIV biotech medicine produced using genetically modified tobacco- a first of its kind study in the EU. The trial represents a milestone for the Pharma-Planta[4] project which was launched in 2004 under the European Commission FP6 funding for research and innovation initiative. If the Phase I study is successful, larger trials will follow and researchers foresee a new antibody which will be combined with other medication to offer better protection against HIV/AIDS at a far cheaper price, thus allowing wider access to treatment in poorer countries.

However, it is crucial that funding for HIV/AIDS vaccine research remains a top priority for governments, while ensuring that people still in need of treatment gain access to essential HIV/AIDS medication.

Nathalie Moll, Secretary General of EuropaBio remarked: “A combination of increasing access to treatment throughout the world’s poorest regions and revolutionary discoveries in biotechnology are key to the global response to AIDS.  With so many advances in scientific knowledge since HIV was first recorded in 1981, there is a real opportunity for the disease to finally be managed. Governments and pharmaceutical companies worldwide must take advantage of recent scientific advances by continuing to invest in research and innovation which will hopefully lead to the prevention of new infections as well as ensure the medication can reach people currently suffering from HIV or AIDS


About EuropaBio (the European Association for Bioindustries): EuropaBio's, mission is to promote an innovative and dynamic biotechnology based industry in Europe. Founded in 1996, to provide a voice for the biotech industry at an EU level, EuropaBio represents corporate and associate members operating worldwide, as well as bioregions and national biotechnology associations representing some 1800 SMEs.



[3] Treatment Action Group (TAG)

[4] Pharma-Planta

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Rosalind Travers

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