NEW YORK, May 13, 2010—In the 27 years since HIV was discovered, scientists have learned a great deal about the virus and how it causes AIDS. Making a vaccine to stop it, however, has proved a greater challenge than anyone could have imagined. Plain good news in this field has been a rarity. So it is with special pleasure that we note on this World AIDS Vaccine Day, May 18, that there has been a sizeable dose of it in the past year.
Last September, a candidate vaccine regimen tested in a large clinical trial in Thailand protected volunteers from HIV with 30% efficacy. That’s not as protective as we’d like a vaccine to be. Still, the result electrified the field: it was the first demonstration in humans that an AIDS vaccine is possible. The challenge now is to build better AIDS vaccines.
Weeks prior to the release of those results, researchers at and affiliated with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) served up another advance: the discovery of two powerful new antibodies capable of neutralizing a wide variety of HIV variants and the identification of the site on the virus to which they attach. This site provides researchers with a promising new model to use to design a vaccine against AIDS. Subsequently, researchers affiliated with IAVI and the U.S. National Institutes of Health have discovered still more broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV.
Of course, making a vaccine against HIV remains one of the toughest problems of modern science.
The considerable work that lies ahead will include, first, the continued clinical assessment of candidate AIDS vaccines. That the protective effect seen in the Thai trial was a surprise to most researchers was instructive, underscoring the vital importance of human testing. It is especially important that researchers devise and test candidate HIV vaccines that are of relevance to the developing world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, where the overwhelming majority of new HIV infections occur. It is thus necessary to build and sustain sufficient human and infrastructure capacity to conduct the required research in such places. Part of that effort will be the cultivation of international collaborations that engage the best researchers, companies, clinical research centers and technologies from around the world.
Second, we believe, HIV researchers must harness the latest scientific insights and technological tools to generate potentially more promising HIV vaccine candidates for human trials. These would include candidates designed to induce immunity in the lining of the gut, where HIV replicates early in the course of infection. It would include candidates that, though safe, behave more like naturally occurring viruses and are meant to elicit more vigorous immune responses. Perhaps most important, it would include candidates that prompt the immune system to deploy powerful antibodies like the ones recently discovered, which neutralize the majority of HIV variants circulating in the world.
“With 7,400 people newly infected with HIV every day, the best hope we have of ending this human catastrophe is to develop and widely distribute effective vaccines against the virus,” said Seth Berkley, the CEO and founder of IAVI.
Success in that endeavor will depend on the continued support of policymakers, advocates, community representatives, researchers, nongovernmental organizations, commercial enterprises, donors and, not least, the volunteers who participate in vaccine and related studies, seeking nothing in return for their trouble but the satisfaction of doing their bit to rid the world of AIDS. On this thirteenth World AIDS Vaccine Day, we at IAVI extend our heartfelt thanks to all of these parties for their dauntless determination and tireless efforts to make AIDS vaccines a reality.
The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is a global not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world. Founded in 1996 and operational in 25 countries, IAVI and its network of collaborators research and develop vaccine candidates. IAVI was founded with the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Starr Foundation, and Until There's A Cure Foundation. Other major supporters include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, The John D. Evans Foundation, The New York Community Trust, the James B. Pendleton Charitable Trust; the Governments of Canada, Denmark, India, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the Basque Autonomous Government (Spain), the European Union as well as the U.S. National Institutes of Health and The City of New York, Economic Development Corporation; multilateral organizations such as The World Bank; corporate donors including BD (Becton, Dickinson & Co.), Bristol-Myers Squibb, Continental Airlines, Google Inc., Pfizer Inc, and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.; leading AIDS charities such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; and many generous individuals from around the world. For more information, see www.iavi.org.