Global cooperation vital in seeking HIV/AIDS vaccine – UN health agency

Global cooperation vital in seeking HIV/AIDS vaccine – UN health agency

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With global efforts to produce an HIV/AIDS vaccine proliferating, it is crucial to increase international cooperation, boost clinical trial capacity worldwide and conduct trials at multiple sites against different strains, the United Nations health agency said today.

“With so many HIV vaccine clinical trials testing novel products ongoing and planned by a wide variety of investigators, it is time to intensify global collaboration,” said the Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Initiative for Vaccine Research, Marie-Paule Kieny. “Lessons learned must benefit all working in this challenging but advancing field.”

Some 50 experts from developing and industrialized countries discussed their HIV vaccine research and development efforts at the first WHO-UNAIDS (Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS) Meeting of Global Partners Promoting HIV Vaccine Research and Development last week in Montreux, Switzerland, bringing together experts from governments, academia, industry, public-private partnerships and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Beyond increasing clinical trial capacity worldwide at multiple sites against different globally prevalent HIV strains in populations with different transmission patterns, challenges include the appropriate use of trial sites for other HIV preventive research; the interface between HIV vaccine trials and increased access to anti-retroviral treatment; and the need to ensure that the most appropriate candidate vaccines are tested at the most appropriate sites regardless of who developed them or strengthened the site.

“Overcoming these challenges will require intense international collaboration and coordination,” said Saladin Osmanov, Acting Coordinator of the WHO-UNAIDS HIV Vaccine Initiative.

Twenty-five million people in sub-Saharan Africa are currently living with HIV, or over 65 per cent of all infections worldwide. Developing countries must be involved as equal partners in the development of HIV vaccines and an increasing number of trials are planned in African countries. This has not always been the case.

Although the first clinical trial of an HIV vaccine took place in 1987 and more than 70 phase I HIV vaccine trials have since taken place, by 2003 only four phase I/II trials had been conducted on the African continent. “Africa must participate in HIV vaccine development,” Pascoal Mocumbi, High Representative of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership and former Prime Minister of Mozambique, told the meeting.

The majority of African countries are more focused on disease control and very few have provisions for HIV vaccine research and development in their national AIDS programmes, he added.

It is important to conduct vaccine trials in developing countries because the genetic variability of HIV may require testing of vaccine candidates in different areas of the world, where different strains are prevalent.

Meetings are expected to take place on a regular basis so that major players can share their experiences and ideas and devise ways to address challenges together.