At the 16th International AIDS conference in Toronto, AIDS vaccine supporters issued a comprehensive report outlining policy initiatives aimed at speeding the development of a vaccine. The measures include everything encouraging work with only the most promising vaccine candidates to calling on biotechnology companies to lend a hand in the search for a vaccine.
At past AIDS conferences, developing AIDS vaccines was the main focus of attention in stemming the spread of the HIV virus. But, the development of such a vaccine is now seen as a long-term project, and the emphasis at this year's conference has switched to shorter term, achievable ways to curb the spread of the deadly virus. These include education, empowering women and universal access to antiviral drugs.
Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, or IAVI, agrees these are good goals, but he says the development of an AIDS vaccine should be part of the prevention plan.
"The current strategies to deal with the epidemic including prevention, treatment and mitigating the consequences are only partially effective and are unsustainable," said Seth Berkley. "New prevention technologies are required, and of these, only an AIDS vaccine can end the pandemic."
The serum development blueprint unveiled by IAVI is designed to get promising vaccine candidates through the testing phase as soon as possible.
One strategy proposed in the document is to shorten the time a compound is in human trials, Berkley says, moving it quickly from safety trials to use in groups of people who are at risk of becoming infected with HIV.
"And although that won't give you definitive statistics, what it allows you to do is say, 'I'm going to redouble the effort on this one and I'm going to back off on that one," he said.
United Nations Special Envoy to Africa Stephen Lewis called development of an AIDS vaccine "the single most important quest on the planet."
"Even a modestly effective vaccine could cut the number of new infections by one third over a decade, saving tens of millions of lives," said Stephen Lewis.
The report says spending on an AIDS vaccine development has doubled in the last five years to $759 million in 2005. But the blueprint says both western and developing nations, as well as pharmaceutical and research companies that have a stake in a vaccine need to contribute more resources and public support.