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On World AIDS Vaccine Day, progress and challenges

May 18, 2005

NEW YORK, 18 May 2004—18 May is World AIDS Vaccine Day, a global observance of the urgent need for a vaccine that prevents HIV infection and AIDS. Many scientists and world leaders agree that to end the epidemic, the world must develop a vaccine.

Each day, 14,000 people become infected with HIV, and most go on to develop and die of AIDS. Prevention programs like education slow new infections, and treatment can help people who become infected to live longer. But these measures alone cannot end the epidemic. “We must develop a vaccine to end this global pandemic. Vaccines stop epidemics—polio, smallpox and two dozen other diseases have been eradicated or controlled thanks to vaccines,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, MD, President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

Since HIV and AIDS were identified more than 20 years ago, scientists have remained steadfast in their belief that a vaccine is possible. It is only in the past 5 years that the world has begun to make progress in applying promising research to vaccine development. Today, a record number of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, academic laboratories and government institutes are involved in the global effort to develop an AIDS vaccine. A record number of vaccine candidates are in human trials. Currently, trials of 30 vaccine candidates span 19 countries on 6 continents. IAVI helped advance 5 of these candidates. Significant challenges remain. For one, HIV can change its shape to outwit most traditional ways of making vaccines.

“HIV is one of the toughest viruses we have yet battled. The only thing that will beat it is the human brain,” said Dr. Dennis Burton, Professor at The Scripps Research Institute and a leading vaccine researcher working with IAVI.

All but 2 of the vaccine candidates in trials are in the early stage of testing—more candidates must advance to larger trials. And the current pipeline of candidates focuses on just one approach to how an effective vaccine might work—new approaches and different candidates must be discovered and tested.

The world must commit more money and political support to AIDS vaccine development. Global spending to develop an AIDS vaccine is US$540–570 million annually. This is less than 1% of the $70 billion the world spends on all health product development. Given the urgent need for a vaccine and the challenges remaining, this is insufficient. AIDS is the greatest health and humanitarian crisis facing our world. Speeding the development of a vaccine by even one month would save millions of lives.

About IAVI: IAVI (www.iavi.org) is a global not-for-profit organization working to accelerate the development of a vaccine that prevents HIV infection and AIDS. Founded in 1996 and operational in 22 countries, IAVI and its network of partner organizations advocate for an AIDS vaccine and research and develop vaccine candidates. IAVI also works to assure that a successful 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 and Co.); the European Union; and the governments of Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States.