New International Initiative To Hunt For Elusive AIDS Vaccine
Posted by pozlife on October 11, 2007
by The Canadian Press
Posted: October 11, 2007 – 5:00 pm ET
(Cape Town, South Africa) Dr. Alan Bernstein of Toronto, who founded the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has been named the first executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.
The announcement was made today at an AIDS conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
The organization is an alliance of researchers and funders trying to find a vaccine against the virus which currently infects more than 40 million people.
The international scientific community is trying to inject new urgency and unity into the elusive hunt for a HIV/AIDS vaccine, just weeks after trials with the most promising candidate to date were halted.
Bernstein said in an interview he hopes to use his role, in part, to raise more funds from new donors, but said he does not regard it as a case of vaccine research versus more research in other areas.
Bernstein said “all avenues and approaches toward prevention” need to be pursued, including circumcision, condom usage and antiretroviral drugs for those with AIDS.
“I am absolutely confident there will be a vaccine, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the job,” Bernstein said, although he refused to speculate whether this would be in the next decade.
The United States and other developed countries have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on vaccine research. But given the failure of vaccine research so far, some experts say more emphasis should be placed on alternatives such as male circumcision.
A World Health Organization study showed earlier this year that circumcision reduced the risk of female-to-male transmission by around 60 per cent. But only 30 per cent of men worldwide have had the procedure, mostly in countries where it is common for religious or health reasons.
Despite the hope offered by circumcision, many governments in Africa _ which bears the brunt of the disease _ have been reluctant to embrace it as national policy because of cultural traditions.
Roughly 30 potential vaccines are in the pipeline. But none was so advanced as one developed by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. The company’s announcement last month that it was stopping mass trials after two dozen volunteers tested positive for HIV was therefore considered a massive setback.
Bernstein, who resigned in June as president of the Canadian agency he set up in 2000, said the failure of the so-called STEP project proved the need for a co-ordinated global approach to research.
The vaccine enterprise was set up by 24 leading vaccine researchers in 2003 and has, to date, mobilized more than US$750 million in support of its scientific plan, including from the U.S. National Institutes for Health. It has been based within the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, another one of its major backers, but will now have a small independent secretariat.
“The Enterprise, under Dr. Bernstein’s leadership, can bring new energy to the HIV vaccine field and help us work together in a co-ordinated manner to tackle these major obstacles as quickly as possible,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in a statement.
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