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12th World conference seen as turning point in AIDS vaccine quest

July 02, 1998

GENEVA, Switzerland, 2 July 1998—The 12th World AIDS Conference, which concludes Friday, will be remembered as the gathering at which the quest for a safe, accessible AIDS vaccine for use throughout the world received long-overdue attention and action.

"This conference marks a turning point," said Dr. Seth Berkley, President of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), a two-year old scientific and educational organization. "A global consensus is finally emerging that a preventive vaccine is our best hope for ending the epidemic."

Progress on Many Fronts

Berkley pointed to progress on many fronts, including basic science, ethical matters, and community involvement.

Dr. Margaret Johnston, Vice President for Scientific Affairs of IAVI, said: "Our new understanding of the structure and biology of the virus will help us in the long term. Just as important, there is growing recognition of the short-term need to accelerate the development and testing of existing vaccine designs. There is already an abundance of good ideas."

An Abundance of Good Scientific Ideas
 
Dr. Berkley added: "Moving existing products into clinical testing will give us answers to many of the remaining scientific questions. These answers, in turn, will allow us to design more effective vaccines."

IAVI released its Scientific Blueprint for AIDS Vaccine Development on the first day of the conference. The report applauds increased attention given to basic research in recent years but calls for a parallel increase in product development and human testing. The report also calls for the creation of true partnerships between industrialized and developing countries.

From Paternalism to Partnership
 
There was also progress on some of the difficult ethical issues surrounding human testing of AIDS vaccines in developing countries. "We are seeing paternalism replaced by partnership," said Dr. Vulimiri Ramalingaswami, Professor Emeritus, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Dr. Ramalingaswami, a member of IAVI’s Scientific Advisory Committee, was co-chair of last week’s UNAIDS symposium on the ethics of vaccine trials.

Added Dr. Berkley: "The leadership of UNAIDS has been crucial in moving forward to address key ethical questions."

Growing Community Involvement

Berkley said that political commitment to AIDS vaccine development is also growing.

Community leaders from around the world are increasingly embracing the idea of a vaccine as the long-term solution to the epidemic. Over 150 organizations have now signed the "Call for Action on HIV Vaccine Development," nearly double the number of signatories in 1996. The document calls for the sustained investment of significant funds from governments and other sources, "without which AIDS will continue its relentless march of destruction."

Earlier this week, IAVI announced the receipt of its first grant from a government, a £200,000 contribution from the United Kingdom. IAVI also reported the receipt of a US$1.5 million contribution from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda.

Lean in structure and catalytic in nature, IAVI’s work focuses on three areas: building worldwide demand for HIV vaccines; advancing scientific progress toward a vaccine; and fostering an economic environment for successful vaccine development.

IAVI has offices in New York and Washington, D.C., and representation in Europe and Africa. Its Scientific Advisory Committee includes scientists from nine countries.