A vaccine to protect against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS may be available before the end of this decade, a leading HIV research scientist says. RV144 may be the answer to fighting HIV/AIDS.
“We’re really working as fast as we can,” said Colonel Nelson Michael, director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, “who expects large-scale effectiveness studies to start in 2016,” according to a report in Reuters:
The hope is to have at least 50 percent effectiveness, a level that mathematical modelers say could have a major impact on the epidemic. Michael thinks this might be the pathway for getting the first HIV vaccine licensed, possibly by 2019.
Teams have been working on a vaccine for nearly three decades, but it wasn’t until RV144, the 2009 clinical trial involving more than 16,000 adults in Thailand, that researchers achieved any hint of success.
Results of the study published in 2009 showed the vaccine combination cut HIV infections by 31.2 percent. According to Michael and many other experts, the result was not big enough to be considered effective, but its impact on researchers was huge, says Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) based in New York.
A 2009 clinical trial in Thailand was the first to show it was possible to prevent HIV infection in humans. Since then, discoveries have pointed to even more powerful vaccines using HIV-fighting antibodies. Now scientists believe a licensed vaccine is within reach.
“We know the face of the enemy,” said Dr. Barton Haynes, of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and recent director of the Center for HIV AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI). The research consortium was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), founded in 2005 by the National Institutes of Health to identify and overcome roadblocks in the design of vaccines for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. NIAID’s funding of CHAVI ended in June.
Unlike many viruses behind infectious disease, HIV is a moving target, constantly spitting out slightly different versions of itself, with different strains affecting different populations around the world. The virus is especially pernicious since it attacks the immune system, the very mechanism the body needs to fight back.
“The virus is far more crafty than we ever thought,” said Haynes, who will outline progress in vaccine research at the International AIDS Society’s 2012 conference being held in Washington from July 22-27.
The Reuters report does not mention SAV001, which began human trials in January.
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