A $2 million-dollar contract to fund research and testing for HIV treatment is shrouded in uncertainty after the Trump administration confirmed it has not yet made a decision on whether to renew it, citing concerns about fetal tissue used in that research.
A decision on the multimillion-dollar contract between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of California, San Francisco will be made after the completion of “a comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue … in light of the serious considerations involved,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a written statement.
With the backing of the NIH, the university has long played a key role in testing HIV therapy dating back to the earliest days of the epidemic, including treatment options that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
A report by the Washington Post indicates that the “highest levels” of the government have already decided it will terminate the contract, but it remains unclear exactly when that would be. That same reporting noted that the AIDS division within NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases informed the university in a letter that the contract would only be renewed for 90 days, where it would generally be extended for a one-year period.
Government records indicate the contract was set to expire December 5, but the same document lists an “estimated completion date” of December 5, 2020. Furthermore, existing rules at the University of California require two months of advanced notice before any employees are laid off.
The University of California declined to comment on specifics surrounding the contract situation, but highlighted the “vital” research it conducts using fetal tissue to find treatments and cures for a variety of diseases and medical conditions.
“Its importance to researchers today has not diminished, and it is still essential to ensuring that cells and tissues created from stem cells for research or therapy accurately reflect normal human biology,” the university stressed in a written statement.
The university further asserted that all research is carried out in compliance with federal and state law and sought to remind the public that fetal tissue has been used in biomedical science since the 1930s.
The contract funds testing on “humanized” mice that receive implants in the form of tissue from glands of voluntarily aborted fetuses. The tissue helps researchers test different drugs, including one currently in development that can block HIV infection for up to a year, according to the Washington Post.
The Trump administration has repeatedly sought out ways to cut funding sources related to fighting HIV/ AIDS. Late last month the administration released a new proposal that would lower the amount of HIV drugs available to Medicare recipients, and Trump has already redirected funds from the Ryan White AIDS CARE Act program to pay for his family separation policy. He also proposed to cut PEPFAR, which addresses the HIV/ AIDS epidemic on a global scale.