At the opening ceremony of the Lausanne, Switzerland, AIDS VACCINE '04 conference, leaders in the field of AIDS vaccine research called for increased political and financial commitment to facilitate the development of preventive and therapeutic AIDS vaccines as a public health imperative in fighting HIV/AIDS.
An estimated ten-fifteen billion euros are needed over the next ten years to guarantee adequate clinical development of the current vaccine candidates. While survival of people living with HIV/AIDS has been extended, only a safe and effective vaccine will contain the pandemic, and the complexity of developing such a vaccine remains an enormous scientific, clinical, financial, logistical, organisational, and manufacturing challenge.
"Due to an alarming increase in the number of HIV infections, whereby it is anticipated that an additional 45 million new infections will occur by 2010, there is an urgent need for a preventive vaccine to end the HIV pandemic both in the developing and in the developed world. We hope that, in light of its humanitarian tradition, Switzerland will strengthen its long-term commitment to the international initiative to support HIV vaccine development," said Dr Giuseppe Pantaleo, Chairman of the Conference.
All the actors in the field of HIV vaccine research and development have recognised that everyone involved needs to be more open, transparent, collaborative and coordinated in their research with a properly organised, managed and systematised effort to lead vaccine candidates to clinical Phase III worldwide. "Such a well organized, more collaborative and better supported effort is crystallizing in the recently proposed Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, which aims at complementing the irreplaceable scientific insights generated by the creativity of individual investigators", said Dr Jose Esparza, Senior Adviser on HIV Vaccines for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In an analysis of the situation, Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases commented, "Despite many important advances in HIV research, a safe and effective HIV vaccine has eluded our grasp. Clearly, HIV vaccine development must be accelerated, and researchers around the world must move toward a new paradigm in which planning and coordination, sharing of data and reagents, and collaboration are paramount."
Moreover, "Given what we know about HIV today, the field must push promising vaccine candidates into development and clinical trials. At the same time, basic research questions must still be solved. This will require an infusion of resources as well as creative mechanisms for cooperation between government and industry," said Dr. Seth Berkley, MD, President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
Dr Michel Kazatchkine, Director of the French Agence Nationale de Recherches sur le Sida (ANRS) emphasised, "The large number of scientific contributions to this meeting originating from several major European countries demonstrates the significant research effort that is currently pursued in Europe. HIV vaccine nevertheless remains largely under-funded in Europe. It requires stronger international cooperation, a better definition of European strategic priorities and an enhanced political and financial commitment from the European Commission and individual member states."
Dr Rolf Zinkernagel, Nobel Laureate from Zurich University, signified that the development of an HIV vaccine is one of the most difficult challenges that biomedical research confronts today. "A preventive or therapeutic vaccine against HIV/AIDS is very difficult to develop because we have not yet succeeded in creating a live-attenuated and at low levels persisting vaccine that induces and maintains protective T cell and B cell-antibody responses against this constantly mutating, persisting virus infection."
The AIDS vaccine '04 conference is attended by about 800 scientists and features the most significant advances in the field. The Conference is co-organised by the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) and EuroVacc, a foundation registered in Switzerland whose mission is to develop a vaccine against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other agents of human infectious diseases.