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IAVI: progress toward an AIDS vaccine outweighed by challenges

July 12, 2004

BANGKOK, July 12, 2004—Global efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV infection and AIDS have intensified over the past few years, yet they continue to fall short of what is likely to be needed to achieve success, according to a new report by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

Progress is outweighed by significant challenges: the vaccine field is narrowly focused on one concept for how to design a vaccine, is in need of more cooperation and has far too little resources.

IAVI’s report, Scientific Blueprint 2004: Accelerating Global Efforts in AIDS Vaccine Research and Development, was released today at the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

Global efforts toward a vaccine are inadequate despite scientific consensus that a vaccine is possible, and growing international awareness that a vaccine is essential. According to the United Nations, more people became infected with HIV last year than in any other year—14,000 every day, 5 million total.

“The world is inching toward a vaccine, when we should be making strides,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, MD, President and CEO of IAVI. “The single biggest obstacle is that vaccine development is not a top scientific, political and economic priority.”

IAVI’s Blueprint calls for a doubling of current spending to develop an AIDS vaccine, which at US$650 million annually represents less than 1% of what the world spends on health product research and development.

More money would help broaden the diversity of vaccine approaches in testing. More than 30 vaccine candidates are in human clinical trials in 19 countries—a record number. However, these candidates are narrowly focused on one hypothesis for how a vaccine might confer protection.

“Too many scientists are working on the same idea,” said Dr. Wayne Koff, IAVI’s Senior Vice President and Chief of Vaccine Research, and the lead author of Scientific Blueprint 2004. “The vaccine field must advance new and different candidates into trials.”

More money would also help expand capacity to conduct vaccine trials in developing countries, where most new HIV infections occur and different subtypes of the virus are circulating. A number of developing countries have sites to conduct small-scale trials, but only Thailand has capacity for large-scale trials.

IAVI’s Blueprint cautions that vaccine candidates are moving forward without global consensus about how to assess their promise. Vaccine agencies must agree on common standards so that the best candidates can be quickly identified and given priority.

At the Bangkok conference, IAVI pledged to expand its own AIDS vaccine research and development program, which in the past five years has advanced five vaccine candidates from concept to human trials.

The Bangkok conference’s theme is “Access for All.” Dr. Berkley said: “Access must include treatment and care, prevention and the development of a vaccine.”

About IAVI: IAVI (www.iavi.org) is a global not-for-profit organization working to accelerate the development of a vaccine to prevent HIV infection and AIDS. Founded in 1996 and operational in 23 countries, IAVI and its network of collaborators research and develop vaccine candidates. IAVI also works to assure that a vaccine will be accessible to everyone who needs it. IAVI’s major financial supporters include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Rockefeller, Sloan and Starr foundations; the World Bank; BD (Becton, Dickinson & Co.); the European Union; and the governments of Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

About IAVI’s Blueprint: Scientific Blueprint 2004 is available at IAVI’s booth in the Bangkok conference exhibition hall, #156, and on IAVI’s website at www.iavi.org. It includes a map and table of all vaccine candidates in trials, a list of major agencies involved and estimates of global spending on vaccine research and development.