A much-needed shot in the arm for HIV vaccine development
International efforts towards developing a vaccine against HIV infection have been given a much-needed boost by the publication today of the Global HIV/AIDS Vaccine Enterprise's scientific strategic plan, published online in the freely available, open-access global health journal PLoS Medicine.
The Global HIV/AIDS Vaccine Enterprise is an international alliance of independent agencies and organizations conducting or supporting HIV vaccine research. In June 2004, the G8 countries endorsed its goals, and will consider the new plan at its forthcoming summit meeting in the United Kingdom this July.
The coordinating committee of the plan reads like a "who's who" of global AIDS experts, including Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health; Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS; and Pascoal Mocumbi, former Prime Minister of Mozambique and Representative of the European Developing Country Clinical Trials Partnership. The Enterprise partners include many of the world's top AIDS vaccine funding and advocacy organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and the AIDS Vaccines Advocacy Coalition.
The plan, developed with the collaboration of over 140 scientists worldwide, identifies the major scientific roadblocks facing HIV vaccine development, outlines a strategic approach to addressing them, and proposes an innovative collaborative model that ensures that researchers across the globe are harnessing their efforts towards a common goal.
"Development of an HIV vaccine remains one of the most difficult challenges confronting biomedical research today," write the plan's authors, but fortunately "scientific progress has created new opportunities that could be harnessed more effectively through global coordination and collaboration."
"These new opportunities include an expanded HIV vaccine candidate pipeline, improvements in animal models, a growing database from clinical trials, and the availability of new quantitative laboratory tools that make comparisons among vaccine studies feasible." What is needed, they argue, is a way of tying all of these opportunities together, and their plan provides a model for doing just that.
"A preventive vaccine is the world's best long-term hope for bringing the HIV/AIDS epidemic under control," said Helene Gayle, Director of the Gates Foundation's HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health program and one of the plan's authors. "We hope that that the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise will speed the development of a vaccine by bringing new collaboration, resources, and strategic focus to the field."
"The partners in the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise are committed to the themes of cooperation, collaboration, and transparency in advancing HIV vaccine research and development," said Anthony S. Fauci. "By working together, we will greatly accelerate progress toward the critical goal of developing a safe and effective HIV vaccine to help curb the global HIV/AIDS pandemic."
"Being from the continent worst hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has claimed more than twenty million lives and wiped out decades of development gains," said Pascoal Mocumbi, "I do believe that this scientific strategic plan will not only accelerate the development of a lifesaving HIV vaccine but also boost African capacity in health research to address new health threats."
In a related commentary on the plan, David D. Ho, Scientific Director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at the Rockefeller University in New York, said that "there is no doubt that this roadmap will be regarded as a useful instrument to bring greater cohesion and coordination to the field."
Ho urges the Enterprise not to ignore the important contributions made by scientists outside of the collaboration. "It is my contention that great new ideas are as likely to come from curiosity-driven basic studies as from the mission-oriented approach that is represented by the new proposal."
The PLoS Medicine editors hail the plan as being a "crucially important outline for vaccine development." But in their editorial, they also caution that "the goodwill surrounding it won't last unless it is quickly followed up with a set of milestones, and a transparent process by which successes and failures will be measured."
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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