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New optimism in the hunt for an AIDS vaccine

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we’re talking with Larry Corey – virologist, former president and CEO at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and founder of the world’s largest international scientific initiative aimed at finding an effective vaccine against HIV – the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. The HVTN was launched by Corey in Seattle years ago, at the behest of Tony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health, to create a more globally collaborative effort in the hunt for an effective vaccine against HIV and AIDS.

Lawrence Corey, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Lawrence Corey, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Among his research accomplishments, Corey (in his younger days, working with the late Nobel laureate Gertrude Elion) helped develop the first ever long-term anti-viral therapy – the drug acyclovir for herpes. That finding paved the way for the drugs we now use to combat HIV and some other viral infections. But with HIV still spreading (2 million new infections last year) and AIDS still killing (1.2 million deaths last year, mostly in the developing world), Corey is among those who say we are unlikely to ever end the AIDS pandemic without a vaccine. It’s a been a long, hard road. But after 30 years of frustration, of facing a challenge more difficult than anyone had anticipated, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We talk to Corey about why he’s optimistic these days about our chances of finding an effective HIV vaccine and about Seattle’s leading role in this endeavor.

As always, Humanosphere editor Tom Paulson and I open the podcast by chatting about some of the more interesting stories of the week, beginning with the announcement by the World Health Organization that tuberculosis (TB) has overtaken HIV/AIDS as the world’s leading killer infectious disease. This is, in part, due to getting many more people on anti-HIV drugs (though millions still don’t have access) but also due to the fact the TB pandemic is still not getting the kind of attention, and funding, it deserves as a global health threat.

We also discuss a post by Till Bruckner on the complexities of trying to end slave labor in Mauritania – which include the difficulty in getting a clear definition of what is, or is not, slavery and how international humanitarian organizations, aid agencies and donors should respond. Speaking of aid, we also point to a very revealing infographic that shows most U.S. aid spending has little to do with reducing poverty and inequity.

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About Author

Gabe Spitzer

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, after a year covering youth and education. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago.