Reliance on NIH threatens HIV vaccine funding

The nixing of the largest HIV vaccine trial in April blew a hole in the late-phase pipeline that other candidates have yet to fill. And with sequestration cuts threatening funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), uncertainty hangs over the availability of funds to advance promising vaccines.

After peaking at $961 million in 2007, HIV vaccine research and development funding has been down to flat each year, a new report from HIV Resource Tracking found. The decline has come as Big Pharma, notably GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck ($MRK), have scaled back. When funding peaked Merck had yet to end its Phase IIb trial, and commercial entities pumped an estimated $84 million into HIV vaccine R&D. For the past few years, commercial funding has languished at $30 million.

With Europe also cutting funding--down from $79 million in 2007 to $52 million last year--the NIH has become even more vital. The NIH already accounted for 61% of HIV vaccine funding in 2007, but the pullback by other sources has increased reliance on the U.S. agency. Last year, 66 cents of every dollar invested in HIV vaccine R&D came from NIH. Without a rise in philanthropic funding, the sector would have been even more reliant on the U.S. funding.

The dominance of one funding source could become a problem as NIH rejigs its budget to cope with sequestration cuts. The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) calculates that $154 million in AIDS research funding is under threat. Without this cash, 280 AIDS research grants--including 31 focused on vaccines--will go unfunded. Other agencies associated with HIV vaccines--such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--are also contending with budget cuts. The authors of the HIV funding report believe the cuts "may well have a crippling impact on innovation and overall progress in developing and delivering safe and effective prevention technologies."

- here's the report