Attempts to develop an AIDS vaccine need greater coordination to avoid duplication and increase the chances of success, Health Ministry officials said on Tuesday.
“There is that danger we see right now in AIDS vaccines, a lot of so-called me-too or similar vaccines being tested,” Robert Hetch, senior vice-president for public policy of IAVI, USA, told a meeting of the Global Forum for Health Research in Mumbai.
The not-for-profit IAVI, backed by the World Bank, European Union and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wants a stronger scientific consensus on priorities and a tighter funding system to “avoid this kind of duplication and wasted use of resources”.
There are 40 million people infected with HIV around the world and every year 5 million more people are infected and 3 million deaths occur from HIV-related illnesses, Hetch said.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the final and most serious stage of HIV disease, which causes severe damage to the immune system.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AIDS begins when a person with HIV infection has a CD4 cell count below 200. (CD4 is also called “T-cell”, a type of immune cell.) AIDS is also defined by numerous opportunistic infections and cancers that occur in the presence of HIV infection.
More than 30 vaccine candidates are now in clinical trials around the world, but researchers are not confident that any of them will be really effective in defeating HIV because the virus mutates frequently.
“We estimate that through a series of coordinated and targeted efforts, the timeline could be speeded up by as much as 50 percent,” Hetch told the forum in Mumbai, formerly Bombay.
He said the $680 million spent worldwide on AIDS vaccine research and development fell short by several hundreds of millions of dollars.
Antiretroviral (ARV) drug treatment programmes were a long-term cost burden and investing in finding a vaccine was urgent because it could prevent millions of infections and save resources that would otherwise be spent on ARVs, he said.
In 2005 alone, nearly $4 billion was expected to be spent on ARVs in the developing world and it was estimated that this would increase dramatically in coming years, he added
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD