International AIDS Vaccine Initiative seeks more research funds

With finances drying up for research projects as the world economy has slumped, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) has sought more funds for work on developing prevention vaccines.

“These research projects are long drawn and the politicians may not see the results immediately but HIV/AIDS is a serious matter. The issue needs to be given priority at the moment because there are several encouraging developments happening globally in the field of AIDS vaccine research and we are closer to results,” Seth Berkeley, CEO, IAVI, told journalists here on Tuesday.

Though India and China did well during the slump and the rest of the world was gradually recovering from the financial crisis, it was scary as HIV/AIDS was getting less priority now. “We are watching this with great concern,” he said while admitting that it was a challenge to keep the focus on HIV to ensure funds.

The IAVI is working on several research projects in India including with the Department of Biotechnology, the Indian Institute of Science, the National Aids Research Institute, the AIIMS and the PGI Chandigarh, to name a few. Indian researchers and pharmaceutical companies have a significant role to play in the global developments in this field, IAVI believes.

Joint project

Dr. Berkeley said a joint project of the U.S. and Thai governments, involving a two-step regimen of two different AIDS vaccine candidates in 2008, was a positive development. Though not a vaccine ready to be marketed, the regimen provided about 30 per cent protection but was not enough to satisfy public health authorities. Because of the Thai trial results, there is a renewed interest in the efficacy testing of the other existing or newly modified experimental AIDS vaccines.

On new approaches, he said those targeting the cellular immunity arm of the immune system looked far better than the first generation candidates in the best of animal models. These would go into human trials in the coming years. In the past 10 years, the IAVI and its network of partners have translated innovative technologies into 15 vaccine candidates, seven of which have entered human trials in 11 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. The IAVI network partners also have conducted clinical trials on other non-vaccine HIV prevention technologies, including pre-exposure prophylaxis. Recent findings from one of these studies have led to the discovery of new broadly neutralising antibodies that work against a large percentage of HIV variant circulating worldwide – a finding that has a significant impact on HIV.

Pointing out that pricing of the possible vaccine in the near future was a critical issue, Dr Berkeley said it would be meant for the target groups initially, and not as a public health intervention.