AIDSVAX Trial Results Expected With the Year; IAVI Pushes For Additional Funding
Efficacy results of the first AIDS vaccine tested in phase III human trials should be available "within six to nine months," Dr. Seth Berkley, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative said, Reuters Health reports. Speaking Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, Berkley said that the vaccine was only "one of many" under research and that "much work" is needed to "swiftly" produce and distribute an "effective vaccine." Called AIDSVAX, the vaccine tested in the United States is based on the B subtype of HIV. Another version of the vaccine is being tested against subtype E in Thailand and results from that trial are expected in 18 months to two years.
Berkley said that vaccine research is "grossly underfunded," as it accounts for less than 2% of global AIDS funding. To "overcome" approval and distribution problems of a potential vaccine, IAVI released a petition at the special session that advocates the appropriation of $1.1 billion over seven years for vaccine research and the establishment of a "tiered" pricing system for a vaccine in which richer nations would pay more than developing countries (Mundell, Reuters Health, 6/26). The IAVI petition also calls for "concrete action" from governments and industry to develop a vaccine without diverting funds and efforts from "therapeutics or other prevention efforts." Also, human trials of vaccines must be "proritize[d]" to allow the "most promising" candidates to be tested first. As part of the strategy against HIV/AIDS, IAVI said that the world "must redouble its commitment" to education and prevention programs (IAVI petition, 6/2000). Berkley said that IAVI is also "urging" world leaders to work together to "eliminate barriers" to vaccine approval, adding, "We can't have delays while each country decides to approve vaccines as they come out." IAVI's goal is to gather two million signatures on the petition to "try to assure that parliaments around the world are working on these regulatory issues in their respective countries" (Reuters Health, 6/26).
Vaccine Trials and Errors
Since 1984, when HIV was discovered to cause AIDS, researchers "figured" that "the only way ... to stop [the HIV/AIDS] epidemic is with an effective vaccine," the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" reported on Wednesday. However, at the time, billions of dollars were "poured into research" for treatment by the government and private companies and not for vaccine development because of "demands for treating those already afflicted." Now, there is a "big disparity" between funds for preventive measures, such as vaccines, and money for treatment. Berkley said that funding five years ago was "maybe $100 million globally, and on vaccines for the developing world, a few million dollars a year [is] almost nothing." Coupled with the "political and economic" difficulties in vaccine research, scientists developing HIV vaccines face many "critical challenges," as HIV is actually a "family of viruses" with at least 10 different subtypes (Dentzer, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," 6/26).
Potential for Success
Harriett Robinson, chief of microbiology and immunology at Emory University, said that funding levels for vaccine research are "better now" than in recent years. She added that health officials are offering "cautious praise" for her work on a vaccine that will begin human trials next year. The vaccine, which has proven successful in monkeys "so far," controls HIV once it infects the body and "reduces the level of virus" that could be transmitted to others. On the history of vaccine development, Robinson said, "I think we didn't know as much about this virus as we do now. I think there's hope. And there's still work. We don't have an AIDS vaccine yet, but we have a foot in the door. You have to be optimistic" (Hayes, AP/ABCNews.com, 6/26). To listen to the "NewsHour" segment, click here. Please note that links are available only to readers of the report's Web version.