HIV vaccines: Back to basics?

With the recent linkurl:failure;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53633/ of HIV vaccine clinical trials, the HIV/AIDS research community has resolved to concentrate more on the basic science behind the disease, shifting the main focus from vaccine product development towards immunology and virology research, they said at a meeting in Maryland held today (March 25). "We need to turn the knob towards discovery," said linkurl:Anthony Fauci,;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53845/

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

View full profile.


Learn about our editorial policies.

Mar 24, 2008
With the recent linkurl:failure;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53633/ of HIV vaccine clinical trials, the HIV/AIDS research community has resolved to concentrate more on the basic science behind the disease, shifting the main focus from vaccine product development towards immunology and virology research, they said at a meeting in Maryland held today (March 25). "We need to turn the knob towards discovery," said linkurl:Anthony Fauci,;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53845/ director of NIH's National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which convened a linkurl:summit;http://hivsummit.dgimeetingsupport.com/ on HIV vaccine research and development, which was webcast from a Bethesda hotel. One suggestion that came from speakers and the audience, which consisted of world leaders in HIV/AIDS research: Bring new blood into HIV vaccine research by supporting young investigators. "We really do need new and novel ideas," said Carl Dieffenbach, director of NIAID's Division of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. But how? Many of the scientists who spoke at the summit called on the NIAID...
esolved to concentrate more on the basic science behind the disease, shifting the main focus from vaccine product development towards immunology and virology research, they said at a meeting in Maryland held today (March 25). "We need to turn the knob towards discovery," said linkurl:Anthony Fauci,;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53845/ director of NIH's National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which convened a linkurl:summit;http://hivsummit.dgimeetingsupport.com/ on HIV vaccine research and development, which was webcast from a Bethesda hotel. One suggestion that came from speakers and the audience, which consisted of world leaders in HIV/AIDS research: Bring new blood into HIV vaccine research by supporting young investigators. "We really do need new and novel ideas," said Carl Dieffenbach, director of NIAID's Division of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. But how? Many of the scientists who spoke at the summit called on the NIAID to raise the payline for R01 grants to fund new basic research and to encourage more participation by up-and-coming scientists. However, this would only be a temporary fix, Fauci noted. "If I could raise the payline to the 20th percentile, I would do it in a microsecond," Fauci said. "But if we don't get new money the second year, the payline will be 4 [percent]" the following year. Over the past few years, the US government has spent roughly $500 million on HIV vaccine research annually. While the summit-goers unanimously voiced a need for more resources to be poured into the HIV vaccine effort, Los Angeles-based HIV/AIDS care provider AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) took advantage of the summit's lunch break to hold a teleconference suggesting the opposite. AHF president Michael Weinstein called for a linkurl:suspension;http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.aidsvaccine23mar23,0,3426636.story of government-based HIV vaccine research funding and a redirection of that money towards research into direct clinical care, prevention, and education. "After 25 years and tens of billions of dollars, we have made no progress on an AIDS vaccine," Weinstein said. "We've had a runaway train of AIDS vaccine research fueled by the best of intentions that now needs to be stopped." Back at the Maryland summit, however, no such thoughts were expressed. "This is just a pause. We will never give in," said Adel Mahmoud, chief executive of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise and former president of Merck's vaccine division, about the recent failure of the NIH and Merck-funded STEP and Phambili HIV vaccine clinical trials. The trials were stopped when researchers found an increased incidence of HIV infection among some trial participants who received the vaccine. Mahmoud said that the way forward will be paved by innovation from young researchers. "This is not just sloganeering," he said, "The next step is going to come from outside this room." In his closing remarks, Fauci mentioned the AHF's suggestion to stop funding HIV/AIDS vaccine research, which a panelist from South Africa had brought up earlier. "Under no circumstances will we stop funding AIDS vaccine research," Fauci said. "Not only will we not stop it, we will not cut it, and wherever possible, we will increase it."

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?