Creating a vaccine against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) remains one of the biggest challenges of modern science.

In the 27 years since HIV was discovered, scientists have learnt a great deal about the virus and how it causes AIDS. Making a vaccine to stop it, however, has proved a greater challenge than anyone could have imagined, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) has said in a statement issued here to mark World AIDS Vaccine Day.

“With 7,400 people newly infected with HIV every day, the best hope we have of ending this human catastrophe is to develop and widely distribute effective vaccines against the virus,” Seth Berkeley, CEO and founder of IAVI, said.

“Last September, a candidate vaccine regimen tested in a large clinical trial in Thailand protected volunteers from HIV with 30 per cent efficacy. That is not as protective as we would like a vaccine to be. Still, the result electrified the field: it was the first demonstration in humans that an AIDS vaccine is possible,” the statement said, adding that the challenge now was to build better vaccines.

“Weeks prior to the release of those results, researchers at and affiliated with the IAVI served up another advance: the discovery of two powerful new antibodies capable of neutralising a wide variety of HIV variants and the identification of the site on the virus to which they attach. This site provides researchers with a promising new model to design a vaccine against AIDS.

“Subsequently, researchers affiliated with IAVI and the U.S. National Institutes of Health have discovered still more broadly neutralising antibodies to HIV,” the statement said.

‘Importance of testing'

“The considerable work that lies ahead will include the continued clinical assessment of candidate AIDS vaccines. That the protective effect seen in the Thai trial was a surprise to most researchers was instructive, underscoring the vital importance of human testing.

“It is thus necessary to build and sustain sufficient human and infrastructure capacity to conduct the required research in such places like sub-Saharan Africa. Part of that effort will be the cultivation of international collaborations that engage the best researchers, companies, clinical research centres and technologies from around the world.

“Also, HIV researchers must harness the latest scientific insights and technological tools to generate potentially more promising HIV vaccine candidates for human trials,” the statement said.

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