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Thursday, July 20, 2006

New financing in search for H.I.V. Vaccine - New York Times

Gates Foundation to Finance Search for H.I.V. Vaccine - New York Times:

This is great news! The world has long needed a "Manhattan Project" for HIV research, and even though there are doubters who say it's a long way off or impossible, no one will find a vaccine if we don't look for one.

SEATTLE, July 19 — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded more than a quarter of a billion dollars today to researchers in 19 countries to speed the lagging development of an H.I.V. vaccine.

The grants are the largest private investment in making such a vaccine, the foundation said. They represent a significant shift in emphasis, to large-scale collaborative projects instead of small teams of researchers working independently.

The money will be given over five years to 16 scientific teams...

Check out the money quotes from the NY Review of Books article on the difficulty of a vaccine approach:

The holy grail of AIDS prevention is a single-dose, safe, affordable, oral vaccine that gives lifelong protection against all subtypes of HIV. The first hurdle facing vaccine designers, therefore, is dealing with the extraordinary genetic complexity of the HIV epidemic.

HIV exists as two strains—HIV-1, which dominates the epidemic, and HIV-2, which is largely confined to West Africa. So far, at least ten different patterns of HIV-1 infection have been identified. These patterns reflect particular geographic and genetic profiles of viral spread. For example, HIV-1 subtype B (there are nine genetic subtypes) is the common form of the virus in North America and Western Europe. India, by contrast, is under threat from HIV-1 subtype C. In Africa, where some two thirds of those with HIV now live (about 25 million people) and where there were three million new infections in 2003 alone, the situation is more diverse. Southern and eastern regions of the continent face a predominantly HIV-1 subtype C epidemic. Central Africa sees a highly mixed picture—HIV-1 subtypes A, D, F, G, H, J, and K. The implications of these differences for vaccine development remain uncertain. The best guess is that the genetic complexity of HIV will influence the effectiveness of any tested vaccine.

There are also over a dozen virus variants, called circulating recombinant forms, whose genomes have a structure that lies in between those of known subtypes. They also contribute to the difficulty of creating a one-size-fits-all vaccine. At present, scientists do not know if each subtype and every variant will need its own specific vaccine. It may well be that they will.

Worse still, a given subtype of the virus does not stay the same. HIV is continually evolving...

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