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HIV vaccine: The next step forward

Publication Date : 26-09-2012


With traditional approaches to vaccine design and testing not yet yielding a safe and effective antidote for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), scientists and researchers, many of whom are new to the field, are now using novel technologies and out-of-the-box approaches to take HIV vaccine research to the next level of enquiry.

Many such new approaches as well as past developments in the field were the focus of this year’s AIDS Vaccine 2012 international conference held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Centre, Boston, USA earlier this month. Organised by the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, this is the world’s only scientific meeting dedicated exclusively to HIV vaccine research.

In keeping with the conference theme of "New Minds, New Ideas, New Approaches", AIDS Vaccine 2012 hosted, for the first time, sessions exploring synergies between the most promising areas of HIV biomedical prevention research including HIV cure, microbicides and treatment as prevention and HIV vaccine research. More than 400 new research studies updating global progress in the search for a safe and effective HIV vaccine were presented at the conference.

Most noticeably, the conference included works of young and early-career investigators--a generation of researchers who are emerging to take HIV vaccine research and development forward. More than 45 per cent of the conference program included presentations on the latest cutting-edge research by early-career investigators. 

“HIV vaccine research is in its most promising era since the epidemic began,” said Bill Snow, director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise. “With sound and well-financed implementation, new HIV prevention strategies could produce important reductions in the 2.5 million HIV infections occurring each year.  At the same time, the development of a safe and effective AIDS vaccine remains central to efforts to bring us significantly closer to the end of this epidemic,” he said.

Conference chairperson and professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr Dan Barouch said: “Advances in HIV prevention strategies, including HIV vaccine development, are transforming the field and recent progress has also inspired new ideas and new approaches to the design and testing of next generation HIV vaccine.”

A landmark 2009 HIV vaccine study known as RV144 in Thailand demonstrated the first proof of the concept that an AIDS vaccine could prevent infection. AIDS Vaccine 2012 followed up with new research exploring potential mechanisms on how and why that vaccine candidate may have worked, presented new data on the workings of the human immune system that can help steer future vaccine design and shared updates on new neutralising antibodies that protect against a wide range of HIV strains that are driving new technologies. The conference also deliberated on other, potentially more powerful emerging immunological approaches to enhance HIV vaccine delivery and development. 

“Past approaches to vaccine design and testing have not yet yielded a safe and effective vaccine that the world so urgently needs. New ideas and novel perspectives are therefore eminently needed to achieve an HIV vaccine as soon as possible,” said Dr Galit Alter, assistant professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital and chair of AIDS Vaccine 2012.

The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, located in New York, is an alliance of independent organisations dedicated to accelerating the development of preventive HIV vaccines through mutual coordination, collaboration, knowledge sharing and recruitment of new resources and funders to the field.

The Local Hosts for AIDS Vaccine 2012 were the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research and the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

The writer is a Bhopal-based jounalist and attended the Aids Vaccine 2012 conference.


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