Support for AIDS Vaccine Research ‘Crucial,’ New York Times Editorial Says
"[T]wenty-one years into the [AIDS] epidemic, only one [ AIDS vaccine] candidate has made it to the final stage of clinical tests," a New York Times editorial states, adding that economic and political barriers should not stand in the way of developing a vaccine. The editorial says that there are promising vaccines in the pipeline, but "even the most optimistic development schedule" indicates that a publicly available AIDS vaccine is still at least seven years away. The editorial says that the world lacks a "mechanism for turning promising research into working vaccines," noting that researchers have never before been confronted with developing a vaccine to "stimulat[e] an immune response against a disease that destroys the immune system." HIV's ability to mutate also frustrates vaccine efforts. But "even more formidable" have been the "non-scientific obstacles," such as the lack of a "political constituency." The editorial states that the market for a vaccine consists of healthy people who, being healthy, have no "urgency to press for vaccine development."
The Role of Drug Companies
Drug companies have also been "reluctant" to pursue vaccine research because the market exists mainly in poor nations and vaccines are "far less profitable than AIDS treatments." In 1996, to stimulate vaccine research and provide additional funding, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative was created to "fill in the gaps that have hindered vaccine development." The group currently finances 12 vaccine projects in return for assurances that if a vaccine is successful, the makers will make it "affordable" to developing nations. If they do not, IAVI can license the vaccine to another company that promises to keep the cost down. According to the editorial, more than $350 million is spent worldwide on vaccine research and 12 candidate vaccines have "shown good results." The editorial concludes, "It is crucial that governments and foundations maintain this new commitment, thereby ensuring that neither lack of money nor bureaucratic lethargy can impede the fastest possible development of an AIDS vaccine" (New York Times, 4/23).