NIH, Defense Department Plan to Merge HIV Vaccine Development Efforts Amid Criticism of Duplicate Efforts
The National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense are planning to merge their HIV vaccine trials, countering criticism that the two efforts were "duplicati[ve]," the Wall Street Journal reports. Last month, AIDS researcher John Moore "blasted" the two agencies for "working at cross-purposes" and "seeing each other as competitors rather than collaborators" in their HIV vaccine development efforts. However, NIH has "scrapped" its vaccine trial, which was to test a combination treatment involving vaccines by Aventis Pasteur and VaxGen (Adams, Wall Street Journal, 2/26). This regimen would have used Aventis' vaccine, ALVAC, as a "primer" shot, to be followed by VaxGen's AIDSVAX as a "booster" shot. Researchers had hoped that this study would help explain what components of the immune system are most effective at fighting HIV (Weiss, Washington Post, 2/26). But NIH officials have decided to shelve the trial, stating that early data from a smaller trial indicate that the study would not be "scientifically sound" (Wall Street Journal, 2/26). Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the smaller trial did not appear to yield answers regarding what component of the immune system is best equipped to eradicate HIV, adding that the study design for the trial cancelled by NIH "had counted on a more robust effect" than has been seen in volunteers. In the smaller study, it was the Aventis vaccine that failed to produce an adequate immune response. A large study testing only AIDSVAX is already underway in Thailand.
Shifting HIV Vaccine Research to NIH
Although the NIH study has been cancelled, the DOD is testing a "nearly identical" vaccine regimen involving the same vaccines, but the researchers hope to discover whether the regimen prevents HIV infection, not which parts of the immune system are most effective against the virus. The large-scale HIV vaccine clinical trial, which will be conducted in Thailand, has "a good chance" of starting next year. The study is headed by DOD but would be shifted to the NIH as part of a "large-scale transfer of AIDS vaccine research from the military to the civilian sector," the Post reports. This reorganization was ordered last month by the Office of Management and Budget and calls for DOD's AIDS research and development program to be transferred to NIH from its current location at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The Post reports that whereas NIH and DOD have traditionally conducted "parallel" HIV vaccine research projects, this new shift "effectively consolidates" all federal HIV vaccine research within NIH (Washington Post, 2/26). Fauci said that the transfer should take place this October. NIH would fund the vaccine trial's annual $25 million to $30 million budget. Fauci added that NIH will "respect the aims of" DOD's HIV vaccine research, which has "generally focused on developing treatments or vaccines for healthy young people," such as soldiers (Wall Street Journal, 2/26).