AIDS vaccine search in US makes major U-turn after letdowns

July 27th, 2008 - 9:26 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 27 (DPA) After major disappointments, AIDS research in the US is making a significant turn away from human clinical trials and back to laboratory basics in the search for an elusive vaccine, according to a top US AIDS scientist. Anthony S Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and his colleagues announced the turnabout in an article in the Science magazine, which released the item a day before its formal publication Friday.

In an interview with DPA ahead of the embargoed publication, Fauci said that his federally funded institute - which distributes about 80 percent of the money spent worldwide on vaccine research - would “rev up the burners” to tackle the decades-old puzzle of how to create antibodies against the disease without causing an actual infection.

That means less money will be spent on human trials of vaccines that work in less conventional ways, and which buoyed hopes in the past several years only to disappoint.

More use will be made of animals, not humans, in the research, Fauci said.

“What the emphasis right now will be, is on improving the non-human primate model,” Fauci said. “What is the best animal model that we can perfect? Why does the body not make good neutralizing antibodies in natural infection?”

The shift in focus follows intense discussion within the HIV/AIDS research community, and comes just a week after Fauci decided to cancel a large human trial of the institute’s own PAVE vaccine similar to one privately produced and tested by Merck pharmaceuticals that was dropped in September 2007.

Instead of trying to create antibodies and permanent immunity, those two vaccines aimed to marshal the body’s T-cells to reduce the HIV viral count in people subsequently exposed to the AIDS virus.

But the vaccines were found ineffective, and in fact appeared to have inadvertently increased the HIV infection rate, and trials were dropped midway.

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