HIV vaccine trial cancelled

Okay, it’s about time I got around to posting this, since no fewer than three friends pointed it out to me.  (Thanks, guys!)

According to the New York Times, “Plans for a large human trial of a promising government-developed H.I.V. vaccine in the United States were canceled Thursday because a top federal official said scientists realized that they did not know enough about how H.I.V. vaccines and the immune system interact.”

A number of other H.I.V. vaccines are in various stages of testing around the world. But there had been high hopes for the government’s trial because the potential vaccine was among a new class that sought to stimulate the immune system in a different way.

The official who canceled the government trial, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was becoming clearer that more fundamental research and animal testing would be needed before an H.I.V. vaccine was ever marketed.

Scientists say that developing a vaccine against H.I.V. is one of the most difficult scientific endeavors in history because of the uncanny nature of the virus. […]

Dr. Fauci said the new trial was intended to determine whether the vaccine could significantly lower the amount of H.I.V. in the blood of those who become infected. He said a smaller trial was needed to figure out whether the vaccine could do that before large trials were conducted. […]

[Since the early 1980s] researchers have been divided about how fast to test experimental vaccines.

Many urge caution out of fear that failures could destroy confidence among uninfected people most at risk who would be needed as volunteers in future trials.

But equally vocal groups call for testing everything as soon as the research shows promise because of the urgent need for a vaccine.

I’d definitely recommend reading the whole article, which has a lot of interesting info on both this most recent cancellation and vaccine research in general.

The article also included this historical tidbit, which I found rather astonishing:

The decision is a major setback in an effort to develop an H.I.V. vaccine that began 24 years ago when government health officials promised a marketed vaccine by 1987.

Well . . . there’s over-optimism for you.  I happened to talk about this article to a friend who just got an undergrad degree in bioengineering, and she commented that this is an example of the unrealistic expectations often applied to medical researchers.  As the article points out, HIV is incredibly difficult to figure out.

That’s what makes me think the cancellation of the trial was probably a good idea.  The need for a vaccine is indeed urgent, but the stakes are too high to rush into something.  Unsuccessful vaccine tests could cause extra HIV/AIDS cases if trial participants engarge in riskier behavior.  They might also raise false hopes of a “quick fix” and dampen other prevention efforts, or, as the article hints, destroy confidence in further vaccine research or other HIV/AIDS efforts.  Hopefully, attempts to develop an HIV vaccine will soon be successful — I certainly hope and pray for such an outcome.  In the meantime, Godspeed to everyone involved in alleviating the global AIDS crisis.

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~ by h.e.g. on July 22, 2008.

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