HIV Vaccine setback

Top HIV researchers meeting at the 15th annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston this week discussed the latest HIV Vaccine trial results, which were unsettling and left little room for optimism.  Vaccine users overall but particularly those who were uncircumcised, experienced greater rates of HIV infection than users given a placebo vaccine.  

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

In the wake of three AIDS vaccine field trial failures – Merck’s STEP trial was only the most recent – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases chief Dr. Tony Fauci has agreed to convene a summit of top leaders in the vaccine field to rethink strategy and perhaps plot new directions for the flow of federal tax dollars.

The meeting slated for March 25 in Bethesda, Md., was convened after 15 vaccine researchers wrote Fauci asking for a reassessment.

“When the STEP trial failed, it caused all of us to drop back a few yards,” said Fauci in a telephone interview, shortly after he returned to his office Tuesday from the 15th annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston. “We’ve got to rethink these things.”

Earlier in the day, the highly regarded federal AIDS scientist listened quietly as Harvard researcher Ronald Desrosiers, director of the New England Regional Primate Research Center, told an audience of 3,000 conference attendees that the National Institutes of Health has “lost its way,” and that current vaccine research trials were essentially futile.

“There is no rational basis for believing that any of the products in the pipeline have any reasonable hope of being effective,” said Desrosiers, a leading expert in vaccine studies using primates such as rhesus monkeys.

The only value of current or planned human vaccine trials, he added, would be to prove that the products don’t work.

“I would have used a different choice of words,” said Fauci, who does not believe his agency has “lost its way.” However, he said, there is widespread consensus in the scientific community that more needs to be known about what biological steps are needed to cause the human immune system to ward off the virus.

Fauci also disagreed that all current field trials of HIV vaccines are futile. He declined to comment on whether the latest developments will put off or even cancel the launch of a major federally funded clinical trial, called PAVE 100, of another HIV vaccine that has some similarities with the failed Merck candidate.

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