Challenges highlighted at AIDS Vaccine 2003

Coordination and challenges were major themes at the AIDS Vaccine 2003 conference held 18-21 September in New York City, an annual meeting sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health, the French research program ANRS, and the World Health Organization. The meeting featured updates on vaccine science and clinical trials. Many presentations described continuing progress in these areas but there were no major breakthroughs announced. Instead participants reflected on the challenges facing the AIDS vaccine field and emphasized the need for continued work on ‘basic science’ (laboratory studies of vaccines and immune responses), clinical trials site development, and studies aimed at finding a correlate of protection that could be used to swiftly identify effective vaccines in animal and human studies. Gary Nabel, head of the US Vaccine Research Center, said that a trial that identified a correlate of protection would be a “transforming event” for the field.

Many speakers emphasized the need for increased collaboration and coordination between US and Europe and between the industrialized world and developing countries. “We need teams of the best and brightest people working in problem-solving mode to overcome scientific obstacles,” said IAVI’s Senior VP for Research and Development Wayne Koff.

One source of this coordination could be the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise which was recently proposed by a coalition of vaccine researchers, including Richard Klausner of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Larry Corey, head of the US HIV Vaccine Trials Network, reviewed planning activities for the Enterprise including an August meeting in Washington DC. At that meeting working groups on regulatory issues, organization and funding, clinical trials capacity, manufacturing issues, product development, and vaccine discovery were formed. These groups will help develop a plan for action.

Corey said that “the real challenge and real work will be to get agreement that there is a good enough plan [from the working groups] … so that the people who actually provide the money agree” that there is broad support from AIDS vaccine developers. The enterprise has not yet received any funding and does not have a set membership. Jose Esparza, head of the WHO-UNAIDS Joint Vaccine Initiative, emphasized the openness of the project. “The Enterprise doesn’t exist beyond a vision. It is not an organization. This is not a club,” he said. “The intention is to involve the whole community globally.”