Officials: Search for HIV Vaccine Needs Overhaul

By admin

Originally published on Advocate.com July 25 2008 12:00 AM ET

Scientists will
have to take "enormous intellectual leaps" to develop
an AIDS vaccine in the coming years, say researchers clearly
frustrated by the failure of a once-promising shot.

The researchers,
including a top National Institutes of Health official,
want new people with new ideas to step up and join the
search. They say the focus of their research should be
on discovering a vaccine rather than on clinical
trials for evaluating medicines that may or may not
work.

"Design of a
vaccine that blocks HIV infection will require enormous
intellectual leaps beyond present-day knowledge," concluded
a broad team of researchers writing in Friday's
edition of the journal Science.

More than 6,500
new HIV infections occur daily worldwide. A recent
high-profile trial of a potential vaccine found that it not
only failed to prevent infection, but that those who
got the inoculation appeared at increased risk of
infection compared with those who were given a placebo.

After the
disappointing results, the National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases held a summit in March on how to
reinvigorate vaccine research.

The institute
will still support studies in people -- but it is raising
the bar that candidate vaccines need to pass to get federal
support. It is looking for fresh ideas on how to
approach HIV vaccine discovery, and emphasizing basic
laboratory research to fill in key gaps in knowledge.
Among the priorities will be increased research in
chimpanzees, the Science article says.

The recent failed
vaccine study showed "we were maybe on the wrong track
a bit," Anthony Fauci, the institute's director, told a
Science podcast. "We will be turning the knob,
as I like to say, more preferentially toward answering some
of the fundamental questions that have gone
unanswered," he said.

When contractors
don't meet milestones, or when initiatives don't attract
the highest quality of applications, money will be
redirected to more promising research activities,
Fauci's team wrote. Unfortunately, the need for more
resources aimed at discovering a vaccine comes at a time
when the National Institutes of Health's budget remains
flat, the officials said.

"Should growth in
the NIH budget be reinstated in future years, one of
the highest priorities will be to target those additional
resources to HIV vaccine programs, particularly
vaccine discovery research," the health officials
wrote. (AP)