Editorial, Letter to Editor Respond to HIV/AIDS Vaccine Research
"For nearly two decades, scientists have worked to develop a shot that would ward off the HIV infection that leads to AIDS," but "trial after trial has failed, with the latest and most disappointing setback" announced earlier this month with the cancellation of the NIH trial, a San Francisco Chronicle editorial says. With about 40 million people worldwide living with HIV, there is "no question that work" to develop a vaccine "will continue," the editorial says, adding that more "money than ever is spent on prevention and treatment" and that each year, "more people are receiving treatment, though this help comes after infection." Although educational "programs are also credited with holding down the numbers of people who could" contract the virus, what "everyone is waiting for is a fail-safe vaccine, a medical brick wall that can stop an infection from taking hold," according to the editorial. An HIV/AIDS vaccine "remains frustratingly distant," the editorial says, adding, "For starters, the federal initiative must continue. That means a larger budget for" NIH. Private biotechnology companies "remain leery of heavy investments in a vaccine that could be quickly copied by rivals or face heavy public pressure to limit prices," according to the editorial. It adds that although HIV/AIDS vaccine research is a "towering challenge," it is "one that can't be avoided. An AIDS vaccine must be found" (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/28).
Joseph O'Neill, New York Times: "Congress, policymakers and AIDS activists, along with researchers, must also rethink their approach to HIV vaccine discovery," O'Neill, former director of the White House Office of AIDS Policy, writes in a Times letter to the editor. According to O'Neill, the "lion's share of financing comes from American taxpayers and is distributed almost exclusively to academic centers." He adds, "The sector most adept at developing vaccines, our biotechnology and research-based pharmaceutical companies, have remained largely on the sidelines." In addition, "[h]ope of return on investment that would have motivated an all-out effort has been eroded by years of popular activism and sanctions ... and overreliance on the academy's ability to develop practical solutions to health problems," O'Neill writes, adding that a multisectoral "approach and redirection of some public resources to stimulate market forces is warranted: the promise of a substantial financial prize to the inventor of an effective vaccine, advance-purchasing commitments and other means of motivating private capital would be a good place to start" (O'Neill, New York Times, 7/25).