HIV Vaccine Awareness Day: On the road to an AIDS Vaccine

May 19, 2014

Each year on May 18th, HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD), we recognize and thank the thousands of volunteers, community members, health professionals, advocates, policy makers and scientists who are working together to find a safe and effective AIDS vaccine. HVAD is a reminder that vaccine research is rarely linear, often unpredictable and always an essential component of a comprehensive response to the epidemic. It is also often a reminder that awareness of the next steps for vaccine development is limited, and HVAD is an annual opportunity to raise awareness.

The road to an AIDS vaccine is not easy. But after 30 years since HIV was identified, researchers believe we’re closer to a vaccine than we ever have been. In 2009, scientists announced that RV144, a large-scale trial in Thailand, found modest levels of protection. This was the first evidence in people, or proof of concept, that an AIDS vaccine can reduce the risk of HIV. The Pox Protein Public Private Partnership (P5) now aims to build on RV144 findings in Thailand, and to explore a modified vaccine in South Africa. Follow-on studies are starting and ongoing in Thailand; additional large-scale trials in both countries are expected to start in the next two to three years.

At the same time, the AIDS vaccine pipeline of other vaccine approaches is increasingly diverse. More than 30 AIDS vaccine clinical trials are underway, testing a variety of candidates and vaccine concepts. In the UK, funders are supporting key AIDS vaccine research though the UK HIV Vaccine Consortium, the Department for International Development, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The current challenge is to continue moving promising strategies forward without delay.

In this period of scientific development, while the world waits for an AIDS vaccine, we believe it is critical to:

Track Timelines and Investment

The P5 timelines have shifted, with delays that have challenged the sense of momentum and optimism. However, follow-on trials are still expected to begin in South Africa in 2015—and it is critical to support this effort, even while urging the P5 to remain transparent, efficient and accountable. Pubic sector investment and industry involvement in AIDS vaccine research are both essential and advocates should press for commitments from government and industry.

Get Engaged

Civil society input is needed to be sure that trials are acceptable, and address the concerns of the communities who might be asked to participate— and who might benefit from the research in the future.

Help Manage the Hype

There are many steps between positive animal data and trials to test efficacy in humans. Headlines that tout efficacy in small animal studies before it’s been proven in humans can over-inflate expectations.

Demand a Plan

The field has to be vigilant and selective, so that concepts advance or are set aside swiftly, with clarity about next steps.

Finally, at AVAC, we have developed a 2014 HVAD “toolkit” and will be hosting a webinar entitled Breakthroughs and Big Questions: AIDS vaccine research in 2014 on Monday, May 19 3 PM (BST) (see full information below).

Visit our HVAD page and download the toolkit.

For more on the webinar, visit here.

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