A top AIDS and vaccine researcher, who spent 20 years with the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Company, has joined IAVI, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The global non-profit organization aims to speed research for an AIDS vaccine, with both private and public support.

Dr. Emilio Emini will now be IAVI?s senior vice-president and chief of vaccine development. From Philadelphia, Dr. Emini spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about why he left Merck to join a non-profit organization.

He says, ?It was a personal decision. It?s been 20 years. I?ve been at Merck for quite a long time and it?s been a wonderful experience. But at this stage of my life what I want to do is to dedicate myself full-time to HIV vaccine research. And IAVI is the only organization that is 100 percent fully dedicated to that problem.?

Regarding the status of vaccine research, Dr. Emini says, ?It?s a difficult problem. Obviously the need for an HIV vaccine is pretty substantial and continues to grow. There are 17,000 estimated new infections that occur every day. Forty million people infected on the planet. We are still, despite many years of effort, very much at an early stage. And unfortunately there probably will still be many years of additional research required before we can even begin to proceed with the possibility of success.?

When asked why it might take so long, he replied, ?This is a very difficult virus. It has some characteristics associated with it that are very different from other well known viral infections.? He says the body?s natural immune response is ?incapable of eliminating the virus infection from the body.? He says a vaccine would have to teach the body how to respond to HIV.

The new senior vice-president for IAVI also says a lot more money should be spent on HIV vaccine research.

Click above links to download or listen to interview with Dr. Emini.