In response to community requests, and in a desire to make the full scientific information and discourse from Virtual CROI 2021 available as quickly and broadly as possible, full and free access to all virtual CROI 2021 session recordings will be provided via the CROI website on April 15, 2021. The conference abstracts and the opening Martin Delaney Presentation have been available since the conference week and remain available at croiconference.org.
The original plan to restrict access to some virtual CROI materials for up to six months was based on the need to ensure the financial viability of the conference and to maintain the value of conference registration to the investigators, study sponsors, and attendees whose registration fees made virtual CROI possible.
An in-person CROI costs approximately US $3.5 to 4 million to produce, two-thirds of which is covered by registration fees. Although a virtual conference such as CROI does not incur costs for elements like convention center rental, travel, and audiovisual staging, there are substantial costs associated with a successful virtual meeting (initially estimated at up to US $3 million; see attached infographic). The CROI Foundation was uncertain how many individuals would pay to register for virtual CROI 2021 if all programming was made available within 24 hours of each session day, as has been done for previous CROI conferences. Strong paid attendance makes it possible to advance the date for free public access to the full range of conference presentations and recordings.
CROI was founded and has operated since its inception as a vehicle to 1) catalyze multidisciplinary, transnational research collaborations among basic and clinical scientists engaged in HIV- and other retrovirus-related research, 2) allow US government employed or sponsored HIV investigators to present and discuss their work within the global research community when restrictions on international travel were imposed, and 3) widely disseminate the data presented each year to advance progress in the field. CROI was among the first global conferences to make information freely available to the public following each conference. CROI was also among the first global HIV-related conferences to provide scholarships for community educators, new investigators and international investigators.
Throughout our three-decade history, CROI has not allowed industry-sponsored booths and exhibits, satellite events, or other commercial activities that could have made the conference financially easier to manage, but would have fundamentally changed the character of the meeting. Because the CROI Foundation is not a membership organization, there is no revenue raised from membership fees, journal subscriptions, advertising, other scientific meetings or functions, or other external revenue sources commonly available to membership societies and organizations.
The CROI Foundation, which sponsors and is fiscally responsible for CROI, is a federally-registered not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. The CROI Foundation Board and the Scientific Program Committee members are all volunteers and do not receive compensation for their roles. The conference is financially self-sufficient and is supported through registration fees (which cover approximately 66% of conference costs), unrestricted industry grants (which cover approximately 25% of the costs), and a variety of other external funds and in-kind support that cover the remainder of the operating costs. Funds accrued each year go directly to support the planning, implementation, and management of CROI. Any surplus funds from one year’s conference operations are used to support the operating budget for the next year’s conference and the activities of the Scientific Program Committee and abstract submission programming and reviews. The Foundation maintains in its reserve account an amount sufficient to support operating expenses for one conference should there be a disaster of any type (such as a global pandemic or international public health emergency) that forces the cancellation of the conference.
When the global COVID-19 pandemic forced CROI 2020 to pivot to a fully virtual conference 2 days before the opening session, the CROI Foundation reserve account did not have sufficient funds to cover the full costs of the transition, the additional penalties and fees invoked for last minute cancellation of hotels, the legal fees required to defend our efforts to avoid excessive penalties (some of which are still unresolved), and the costs of producing a virtual CROI 2021 conference should registration fees fall short. We are gratified that paid registration for virtual CROI 2021 was sufficient to allow for the accelerated public release of the full range of virtual conference materials.
We are in what we hope will be a very unusual year. We anticipate that SARS-CoV-2 vaccination and other public health efforts will help reopen the US and enable us to host a largely in-person CROI in 2022. We realize even now, however, that many of our former registrants and participants will not be able or willing to travel to an international conference – and some will not wish to do so. We will continue to review strategies that will allow us to maintain CROI as the preeminent global scientific conference in its field, maintain the financial viability of the conference, and continue to support broad and timely public access to all conference materials.