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NIH funds
controversial HIV vaccine trial

NIH funds
controversial HIV vaccine trial

NIH is giving $120 million to conduct Thailand trial that combines two HIV vaccines.

The National Institutes of Health is paying more than $120 million to conduct a trial of a combination of two HIV vaccines in Thailand, but some AIDS activists say that because tests of the individual vaccines have been disappointing, the decision to fund the new trial is a waste of time and resources, The Washington Post reports. The trial, the most expensive HIV vaccine study to date, includes more than 16,000 HIV-negative Thai volunteers. Each receives two vaccines--VaxGen's AIDSVAX and Sanofi Pasteur's ALVAC. The vaccines are intended to use a prime-boost approach to first prime the body to recognize invading HIV, then to boost the immune system's responses to the recognized virus. The trial is scheduled to run through 2009.

But earlier studies of AIDSVAX reported in early 2003 showed the vaccine, when used alone, is ineffective in preventing HIV infections. Early clinical trials of ALVAC also showed it to have disappointing results.

Because of the failure of the individual component vaccines, many AIDS researchers have questioned the validity of the current Thai trial. In a letter in the January 16, 2005, issue of the journal Science, 22 prominent researchers wrote that the study should be halted because of the poor results from the individual vaccine trials. Robert Gallo, one of the world's foremost authorities on HIV research, says he believes the trial is waste of time and money. Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, has called on the NIH to stop funding the trial.

But NIH researchers say that even if the trial shows the combined vaccines are ineffective in preventing HIV transmissions, it will "reveal new things about HIV," the Post reports. "With 5 million new infections each year, the luxury of time is absent," four NIH scientists wrote in defense of the clinical trial in the journal Science. (The Advocate)

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