Two AIDS Setbacks This Week Show That Many Obstacles in HIV/AIDS Fight Still Exist, New York Times Editorial Says
"Two unrelated developments" this week -- the failure of the AIDSVAX vaccine in clinical tests and the newly announced high price of the antiretroviral Fuzeon -- made clear that "great difficulties" remain "in the struggle against AIDS," a New York Times editorial states (New York Times, 2/26). VaxGen, the makers of AIDSVAX, the first AIDS vaccine to be tested in a Phase III clinical trial, announced on Monday that the vaccine failed to protect the overall study population from HIV infection. AIDSVAX mimicks the protein gp120, which resides on the outer surface of the HIV molecule. By introducing a portion of the protein into the body, researchers hoped to stimulate antibody production in vaccine recipients (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/24). Although there was a "glimme[r] of hope" that the vaccine might protect blacks and Asians, the "failure of the vaccine ... was not wholly unexpected," the Times states. The editorial notes that many experts, including the company that invented the vaccine, "predicted that the approach would fail." In addition, the number of minorities in the study was "too small to generate much confidence in the findings" that the vaccine may be effective in such populations, the Times says, adding that "an effective vaccine is probably years away." Also this week, drug maker Roche announced that its new antiretroviral Fuzeon, which is currently being reviewed by the FDA, will cost $20,000 in Europe and "presumably even more in the United States," the Times states. The cost of the drug "makes it questionable how many people infected with the AIDS virus will have the insurance or personal wealth to afford it," the editorial states. Fuzeon works to block HIV from entering a cell, making it effective when other drugs that attack the virus inside cells have failed. The Times concludes, "Government and private health plans will need to bargain hard lest the price make it difficult for patients to gain access to a life-saving treatment" (New York Times, 2/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.