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World AIDS Day: Accelerating the Hunt for An Effective HIV Vaccine

December 1, 2014
The best hope for eradicating HIV is a safe and effective HIV vaccine.

On World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), two leading HIV researchers are calling on the global community to renew the sense of urgency around developing a safe and effective vaccine against HIV/AIDS. In an editorial published in the scientific journal Cell, US Army Col. Nelson Michael at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and Dan Barouch, a Harvard Medical School Professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, stress that an effective vaccine is critical to ending AIDS.

“HIV has baffled researchers and immunologists for nearly 30 years. It’s one of the most difficult viruses we’ve ever encountered, but we know that we can protect against HIV with an HIV vaccine” said Col. Michael, director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP). “Clinical efficacy trials are the only way to determine if a potential vaccine will be effective.”  

Despite advances in the world’s ability to prevent and treat HIV, more than 35 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS around the world, according to the World Health Organization. With concerted prevention and treatment strategies it is possible to curb the spread of the global HIV pandemic, but the best hope for eradicating the virus is a safe and effective HIV vaccine. 

In 30 years only four vaccine concepts have been tested in clinical efficacy trials. To date, the US Army has led the only trial to show a modest capability of preventing HIV infections (31.2%).  The RV144 trial, also known as the “Thai Study,” proved it is possible to prevent HIV. Today, the US Army and researchers around the world are collaborating to build on the successful results of this study. These studies have provided clues to how the vaccine worked, which are informing ongoing vaccine development.

 “I can’t underscore how important these trials are,” said Michael. “The data from such studies, regardless of their outcomes, will have a monumental impact on the HIV vaccine field and inform new strategies.  It’s an iterative process, but ultimately, this is how we will find the world’s HIV vaccine.”