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Commentary & Opinion
More Human Clinical Research on HIV/AIDS Vaccine Needed to Find "Magic Formula" Against Disease, Opinion Piece Says

April 14, 2008

The notion that federal funding for HIV vaccine research should be redirected to HIV/AIDS treatment is a "very pessimistic view" of the possibility of a successful vaccine, David Baltimore, president emeritus at the California Institute of Technology; Robert Andrews Millikan, professor of biology at CIT; and Seth Berkley, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, write in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece (Baltimore et al., Los Angeles Times, 4/14).

The authors respond to an April 4 Times opinion piece by AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, who wrote that AHF believes that in "light of over 20 years of failed AIDS vaccine research on which billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money have been spent, it is simply unconscionable for the U.S. government to continue such wasteful funding while millions worldwide die for want of access to the AIDS research breakthrough that occurred more than 10 years ago -- lifesaving antiretroviral treatment" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/4). According to Baltimore, Berkley and Millikan, AHF's viewpoint is a "misreading" of the situation. Although the recent Merck trial of an experimental HIV vaccine failed to show efficacy, "it was not a failure as a trial," the authors note, adding that knowing "what not to do is useful because it informs further research."

According to the authors, "Now what we need are more such trials of materials different enough from the Merck materials that we can learn something from them." To "give up at this point would be criminal," the authors write, adding, "Luckily, the cool heads in the AIDS research community are not giving up -- they are searching for new directions." There is a "healthy debate" about what those directions should be, the authors write, concluding, "But to our minds, we need more human clinical research, not less, if we are to find the magic formula" that will protect against HIV/AIDS (Los Angeles Times, 4/14).

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