February 6, 2008
On Tuesday, researchers at the 15th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston presented updates on the quest for an AIDS vaccine.
Further analysis of data from the trial of a Merck AIDS vaccine candidate, which was stopped last fall once it proved ineffective, showed uncircumcised male vaccine recipients had nearly four times the HIV infection risk of those given a placebo, said lead investigator Dr. Susan Buchbinder. The vaccine may have activated white blood cells near the surface of the foreskin, a known target of HIV, possibly making uncircumcised volunteers more vulnerable, she said.
However, Buchbinder does not recommend that uncircumcised volunteers who received the vaccine be circumcised as a precaution. While the slightly increased risk of infection among vaccine recipients is continuing, even the numbers among those who are uncircumcised is so small it could be purely the result of chance.
In another presentation, the 3,000 attendees were told the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has lost its way and that current HIV/AIDS vaccine trials are dead ends. There is no rational basis for believing that any of the products in the pipeline have any reasonable hope of being effective, said Ronald Desrosiers, director of the New England Regional Primate Research Center.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, disagreed with Desrosiers bleak assessment, though he acknowledged scientists have much more to learn about the biological steps necessary for the immune system to effectively fight the virus.
Fauci announced a March 25 meeting in Bethesda, Md., where vaccine research leaders will plan strategy and consider new areas where federal assistance can be channeled.