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A new game, if not new game plan, for an AIDS vaccine

HIV, AIDS virus

I’m not sure most people really understand just how crucial it is that we find a vaccine to prevent HIV/AIDS — or that it now seems more possible than ever before.

It’s a totally new ball game, on both fronts.

A huge study in Thailand, reported almost exactly a year ago, showed for the first time a vaccine can prevent HIV infection. And scientists have identified immune system cells (called neutralizing antibodies) that in the lab appear highly effective at killing the AIDS virus.

At the same time, the AIDS pandemic is continuing to spread worldwide and the international community is recoiling at the anticipated expense (tens of $billions) of making good on its promise to get everyone on life-saving treatment. More than 30 million people are HIV-infected and only one-third of those who need treatment now get it.

And so, here in Atlanta at a meeting of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, convened and largely sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the experts have issued a new game plan aimed at “accelerating the search” for an effective vaccine against HIV.

So far as I can tell, the new plan focuses on coordinating the scientific research agenda, sharing data and making the best of the most promising avenues of exploration — about the same as was the original agenda in 2003 when the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise project was launched.

What’s different is the Thai vaccine trial and the findings on the neutralizing antibodies. We’ve been hearing more about both of these at this meeting. I’ll try to summarize what’s new on these fronts later.

Oh, and the Gates Foundation agenda for HIV vaccine research. That looks different to a lot of folks here, and not all of them are too happy about it.

Nobody’s saying much on the record yet, but I’ll report back on what I can get later.

2010 AIDS Vaccine meeting, Atlanta


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.