Researchers say the rising number of HIV infections around the world highlights the need for an AIDS vaccine. One of the organizations spearheading the effort is IAVI, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
Dr. Seth Berkley is founder of IAVI and from New York he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the latest statistics and vaccine research.
Dr. Berkley says, “It highlights, first of all, the importance of finding a vaccine. Because without a vaccine we really don’t have the tools we need to end the epidemic. And the important point here is that even a moderately effective vaccine could dramatically reduce the number of infections.”
Asked why a vaccine must not always be 100 percent effective, Dr. Berkley says, “Of course, what we would like is a vaccine that’s 100 percent effective. It was only one lifetime dose and would prevent infections. But realistically, we’re more likely to have a vaccine that is to start with of lower efficacy. But the point here is if you had a vaccine that was 30 to 50 percent efficacious, you could significantly reduce the number of new infections.” That could mean a reduction of up to 60 percent, he says, if it were targeted at high-risk groups.
No one knows for sure when a vaccine against HIV, the AIDS virus, will be found. The IAVI founder says, “The science behind an AIDS vaccine is difficult. This is one of the most challenging viruses we ever had to work with. But there’s been enormous advance and there are lots of exciting products that are in testing now. So, the real challenge for us is to focus over the long term. This is a marathon and not a sprint.”
As for investing in AIDS vaccine research, he says, “The challenge, of course, is you can never guarantee that with a certain amount of money spent you can crack a scientific problem. But what we like to think of is how you optimize the response. And we believe that the world ought to be spending in the range of $1.2 billion a year. That would optimize the number of vaccines in trials, the amount of efforts across the world and that would be approximately a doubling of where we are today.”