It has been seven years since the first case of an HIV cure—the “Berlin patient”—was reported. To treat his leukemia, the man received a stem cell transplant using cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation conferring resistance to HIV infection.

The procedure was grueling and risky and its success has never been replicated. Even if it were, it would never be a remedy that can be deployed on a broad scale. What we need instead is a cure that can be applied to everyone who needs it.

Where we are

Today the scientific community has a good understanding of what the principal barrier is to a cure—reservoirs, or pockets, of virus that remain in a person even after they have reached a so-called “undetectable” level of HIV as a result of antiretroviral therapy.

It is now generally agreed that there are four key questions that need to be answered if we are to get to a cure. First, where exactly in the body are the reservoirs located? Second, how do they become established and how do they maintain themselves? Third, how much virus do they contain? And finally, how can we safely get rid of them?

The search for a cure is now largely a technological challenge. We can turn that to our advantage, since it means we can direct teams of scientists to try to find answers to these key questions.

Five-year plan

With the right investments in research, I believe that by 2020 we could build the science that would form the foundation of a cure. Without that, the AIDS epidemic will likely drag on for generations.

Now is the time to really ramp up those investments. Momentum is on our side and there’s a groundswell of optimism in the scientific community. Let’s seize this opportunity.