HIV/AIDS Researchers, Government Officials Track Progress, Forecast Challenges For HIV Vaccine Development

More than 1,000 researchers, government officials and advocates are gathering in Atlanta this week to discuss the progress and future challenges in the development of a vaccine that protects against HIV, FierceVaccines reports (Carroll, 9/29). The AIDS Vaccine 2010 meeting, which kicked off Tuesday, will run through Friday, according to the website for the meeting (undated).

CQ HealthBeat reports on the tempered optimism expressed by scientists participating in the international meeting over the viability of HIV vaccine in the near future. “There is some really good news but there’s a long way to go,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said Tuesday, according to the news service.

The article details recent advances in HIV vaccine research, including the release of data last year from an HIV vaccine trial held in Thailand, which showed the vaccine was 31 percent effective at preventing HIV transmission. The article also references how scientists are studying “a relatively small group of HIV-infected people [that] make antibodies that disarm different strains of the rapidly-mutating virus,” in the hopes that such individuals will help researchers determine “a way to make a vaccine that will prompt the immune system to make these antibodies and protect uninfected people from the virus.”

“What we’ve learned even in the past 12 months is remarkable,” said Alan Bernstein, the executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, a coalition of groups around the world that support vaccine research. However, “[e]ven under the most optimistic time frame, experts agree that it will be at least a decade before a vaccine is licensed and widely available for people,” the news service writes.

The article also quotes Margaret Johnston, director of the Vaccine Research Program in the Division of AIDS at NIAID, who described the U.S. government’s commitment to HIV vaccine research. Johnston was part of a panel at the meeting, that included Catherine Hankins, the chief scientific advisor to UNAIDS; Seth Berkley, the president, CEO and founder of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative; Glenda Gray, a top investigator in the HIV Vaccine Trials Network; and Jose Esparza, senior advisor on HIV Vaccines at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the news service (Adams, 9/29).

CBC News, also reporting on the meeting, includes several scientists’ comments on a strategic plan designed by researchers to advance future HIV vaccine research, which calls for greater collaboration, data sharing and transparency across scientific institutions (9/29). The strategy, which was released earlier this month, “provides a forward-looking framework to speed the development, execution and analysis of HIV vaccine trials; better integrate pre-clinical and clinical research; more effectively capitalize on scientific advances from other fields; and bring new researchers and new funders to the global effort to develop a safe and effective HIV vaccine,” according to a Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise press release (.pdf) (9/7).

Meanwhile, IRIN/PlusNews features a Q&A with Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition. During the interview, which took place ahead of the AIDS Vaccine 2010 conference, Warren addressed the “need for long-term sustainable funding” for research and development for HIV vaccines. While acknowledging the commitments made by the U.S. to HIV vaccine research and development, Warren said of future funding, “We also need to reach out to donors who have not supported vaccine research very heavily in the past – many of the G8 countries fall into this category” (9/27).