New collaborations offer hope for HIV/AIDS vaccine

02/12/05

WASHINGTON, DC - Prospects for a safe, effective AIDS vaccine are improving as researchers from the public and private sectors begin to collaborate in new and creative ways, researchers said today at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) approximately 39 million people are living with HIV, and an estimated 4.9 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2004 alone.

New vaccines take decades to create, and the process can be slowed down when researchers work independently. Another reason that we don't have an AIDS vaccine yet is that making drugs for patients already infected with the virus has generally taken top priority.

"Given the magnitude of the AIDS epidemic and the complexity of the virus, the world must continue to galvanize resources to develop new prevention technologies, most importantly a vaccine," said Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. "An effective AIDS vaccine is our best hope to stop the spread of HIV." Anthony S. Fauci M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that for the National Institutes of Health, the new paradigm requires expanding beyond basic research. It involves a new focus on product development through alliances with the pharmaceutical industry and other research agencies.

"At NIH we are attempting to we strike a balance between the time-honored goals of pursuing basic scientific research as the true foundation of all our objectives, and the need for applied research, and novel research partnerships, to rapidly develop vaccines, therapies and other interventions," he said

Differences in study design and research methods can make it difficult to get the most out of vaccine trials as they are currently done, Fauci said. The leveling-off of NIH's research budget has added to the need for greater coordination and data-sharing among studies, so that results from a clinical trial conducted in one country could, for example, be better applied in another country. To that end, Fauci said, NIH and other agencies are also coordinating research protocols, standards and measures. "Our new role is not just doing basic research but also getting important countermeasures to the public."

"Partnerships between governments, industry and multilateral organizations can make a substantial difference in advancing AIDS vaccine research and development," said Berkley. "A model effort is the partnership across Asia, Europe and the United States in conducting India's first-ever human clinical trial of a vaccine."

New types of collaborations for global health are catching on outside of AIDS vaccine research as well. The journal Science, published by AAAS, recently listed the growth of public-private partnerships for AIDS and other public health research as one of the top ten research advances for 2004, saying that "A revolution in public health is fundamentally shifting the way medicines are developed and delivered to the world's poorest people." (Science, 17 December 2004)

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