Halt of Merck’s HIV Vaccine Trial Should Not ‘Slow Progress’ Toward Future Vaccine Development, Opinion Piece Says
Although many people "felt robbed" by the announcement last week that Merck's trial of an experimental HIV vaccine had been halted, it would be "worse [to] allow the news to slow progress" toward development of future HIV vaccines, Seth Berkley, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece (Berkley, Los Angeles Times, 9/27).
Merck on Friday announced that it had ended a large-scale clinical trial of its experimental HIV vaccine after the drug failed to prevent HIV infection in participants or prove effective in delaying the progression of the virus to AIDS. The trial was stopped by the Data and Safety Monitoring Board, an independent overseer. Experts had considered the experimental vaccine one of the most promising to be tested on people so far (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/24).
The "precise lessons" of Merck's results will "take time to decipher," but the trial is "far from the end of the line" in HIV vaccine development, Berkley writes. According to Berkley, about 30 vaccine candidates are being tested, and scientists "already are devising alternative approaches," such as stimulating antibodies in the immune system rather than T-cells, "which was the basis of Merck's candidate and almost all the others."
HIV/AIDS vaccine research "needs fresh, bold approaches, including ideas from other fields," Berkley writes, adding that "[s]ecuring funding for this vital but long-term work is a challenge." When Congress considers "spending priorities" in reauthorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, it "should guarantee that AIDS vaccine work is also well-funded," Berkley writes, concluding, "If the U.S. doesn't refill the chest with hope, who will?" (Los Angeles Times, 9/27).