For the first time, an experimental vaccine has cut the risk of becoming infected with the AIDS virus, a major advance in the fight against the deadly epidemic. Recent failures led many scientists to think such a vaccine might never be possible. The vaccine cut the risk of becoming infected with HIV by more than 31 per cent in the world's largest AIDS vaccine trial of more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand, researchers announced today in Bangkok.
Even though the benefit is modest, "it's the first evidence that we could have a safe and effective preventive vaccine," Col Jerome Kim said. He helped lead the study for the US Army, which sponsored it with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The institute's director, Dr Anthony Fauci, warned that this is "not the end of the road", but said he was surprised and very pleased by the outcome. "It gives me cautious optimism about the possibility of improving this result" and developing a more effective AIDS vaccine, Dr Fauci said.
"This is something that we can do." Even a marginally helpful vaccine could have a big impact. Every day, 7,500 people worldwide are newly infected with HIV; two million died of AIDS in 2007, the UN agency UNAIDS estimates. "Today marks an historic milestone," said Mitchell Warren, the executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, an international group that has worked toward developing a vaccine.
"It will take time and resources to fully analyse and understand the data, but there is little doubt that this finding will energise and redirect the AIDS vaccine field," he said in a statement. The Thailand Ministry of Public Health conducted the study, which used strains of HIV common in Thailand. Whether such a vaccine would work against other strains in the US, Africa or elsewhere in the world is unknown, scientists stressed.
The study actually tested a two-vaccine combo in a "prime-boost" approach, where the first one primes the immune system to attack HIV and the second one strengthens the response. *AP