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AIDS expert: Drug
companies avoid HIV vaccine research

AIDS expert: Drug
companies avoid HIV vaccine research

NIH AIDS researcher says drug companies find no financial motive for vaccine research

Edmund Tramont, the federal government's chief of AIDS research, testified in a recent trial that he believes pharmaceutical companies aren't seriously focusing on HIV vaccine research because there is no financial incentive to do so and that the government is being forced to pick up the slack. "It's not going to be made by a company. They're dropping out like flies because there's no real incentive for them to do it. We have to do it," Tramont, head of the AIDS research division at the National Institutes of Health, testified regarding HIV vaccine development in a deposition in a recent employment lawsuit obtained by the Associated Press.

Tramont, in a follow-up e-mail to the Associated Press, wrote that the pharmaceutical industry tends to be less committed to any vaccine research and development because it is not a profit center for the companies. "It is not just an HIV vaccine--it's all vaccines--that is why there was/is a shortage of flu vaccines," Tramont wrote to the news service.

Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry blasted Tramont's claims. "That is simply not true," said Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. "America's pharmaceutical research companies are firmly committed to HIV/AIDS vaccine research and development with 15 potential vaccines in development today. Vaccine research is crucial to controlling the AIDS pandemic, and our companies are well aware of the need to succeed in this vital area of science."

There are more than 30 experimental HIV vaccines in small-scale human tests around the world, according to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. However, IAVI officials say, most of those vaccine candidates will likely fail because many of the compounds are similar in design and are not able to keep up with HIV's ability to easily mutate and escape the body's immune system defenses. AIDS experts in Europe have predicted that it could be 20 years or longer before an effective HIV vaccine is available to the public.

The largest human trials to date of an experimental HIV vaccine, called AIDSVAX, revealed in early 2003 that the vaccine was ineffective at preventing HIV infections. AIDSVAX developers are now studying the compound to see if it is helpful in conjunction with antiretroviral drugs in treating those already infected with the virus. (

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