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Thursday, July 12, 2012

NIH Funds Huge New AIDS Vaccine Project

The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has awarded up to $186 million over the next seven years to fund the search for an AIDS vaccine. The work will be done jointly by the Scripps Research Insitute in La Jolla, California and Duke University. The San Diego Union-Tribune has the story:
The size of the grant reflects NIH expectations that researchers at Scripps and Duke may finally be on the right track toward developing a vaccine, said Carl Diefenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.“The beauty of the work Scripps is doing is that the team is incredibly gifted and collaborative,” Diefenbach said. “It’s wonderful that they were able to compete successfully for this grant.”
Scripps and Duke will use the grant to lead newly created Centers for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology & Immunogen Discovery, or CHAVI-ID, in doing research into a disease that has infected 60 million people and killed 27 million worldwide since the early 1980s.
Researchers hope to develop a vaccine that induces antibodies in the blood to find and destroy the virus in the body before it attaches to T cells.
Three previous efforts to develop a vaccine advanced to early clinical trials with limited success. Two failed to show any effectiveness and the third had modest results.
Multidisciplinary teams of scientists at Scripps and Duke will take a new route. Their work will investigate the antibodies of people whose immune systems seem to effectively neutralize HIV, and use their findings to try to create a vaccine that induces the same immune response.
Professor Dennis Burton and other scientists at Scripps will build on their previous investigations of what are called broadly neutralizing antibodies, which can block infection from many types of HIV.
This is encouraging, but it also is a reminder that we are not yet at the point of having such a vaccine and, even if successful, it will likely be many years before this comes to market.
Burton said the need for a vaccine is critical despite the success of antiretroviral drugs that have allowed millions of people to live with manageable cases of HIV.“Sometimes people think that AIDS is solved because the drugs are incredibly effective,” Burton said. “But they’re not a long-term solution, especially in places like sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS is an epidemic. We really need a vaccine to put an end to this disease.”
To which we might add that it is particularly important for women in places like sub-Saharan Africa who have been victimized by men insisting on having sex without condoms. Condoms remain the single most effective weapon against AIDS, but there seem to be a lot of barriers, so to speak, to their use.

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