A shift in priorities is blamed for the first ever decline in funding for AIDS vaccine research. The finding appears in a report published Monday called Adapting to Realities: Trends in HIV Prevention Research Funding 2000 to 2008.
The study was released in Cape Town, South Africa, at the 5th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention. It was put out by the HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Resource Tracking Working Group, which includes the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), UNAIDS and others.
Mitchell Warren, head of AVAC, is attending the conference in Cape Town.
"We have been for the last eight years tracking investments in AIDS vaccines," he says. "We've seen steady gains year by year…. But 2008 represents the first time that there's been a decrease in investment, specifically in preventive HIV vaccines."
Funding for AIDS vaccine research has declined, according to the report, dropping from around $930 million to $870 million.
"The biggest decline actually comes from the pharmaceutical sector, the commercial investment," he says.
Merck has been a leader in AIDS vaccine research funding in the commercial sector. However, one of its vaccine candidates fared poorly in trials in 2007.
"Although they are still very much involved in the effort to understand why it didn't work…they're not making the kind of financial investments that they had previously," he says.
Besides the decline in funding from Merck, there's been a shift toward basic science research.
"There's a great deal of work to try to understand why the Merck vaccine didn't work and how to make better vaccines…. But that tends to happen in more of the basic science and pre-clinical research," he says.
Positives and negatives
"From a realignment point of view, in terms of funding shifting from product development to basic science, it's exactly the right kind of thing that needs to happen…. The bad thing is the change in funding amounts. We need to ensure that when products don't work we don't see downturns in funding," he says.
Warren says there has been an increase in funding for microbicides and the use of anti-retroviral drugs as preventive measures. Microbicides are gels or creams that could be used as preventive to HIV infection during sex. But so far, no product has proven effective. As for the anti-retroviral drugs, they might be used by HIV-negative people to prevent infection.