HIV vaccine researchers ponder new strategies, drop in funding

Emboldened by a glimpse of the potential of a new HIV vaccine, more than 1,000 researchers from around the world are gathering in Atlanta this week to share their thoughts on the best strategies for finally finding a shot which can guard against the lethal virus.

"Over the past year, scientists have identified neutralizing antibodies against HIV, which are a fundamental building block for developing a vaccine," Mitchell Warren, executive director of the Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, tells the Guardian. "In addition, we had the Thai vaccine trial that for the first time ever showed we could have vaccine protection against HIV in humans. These are both game-changing developments."

But Warren and others in the field say they've been alarmed to see a significant drop in funding for the work, which has been primarily subsidized by the U.S. Critics point out that several G8 countries have done little to finance R&D on a new vaccine.

As PhysOrg reports, some of the most intriguing new insights on HIV vaccines are based on a handful of people who have a natural immunity to the virus. And new work is being published in Nature, which delves into the molecular workings of anti-HIV antibodies.

"Nobody yet can make a vaccine that elicits these broadly neutralizing antibodies, but here are patients who can do it, so let's understand how," says Michel Nussenzweig, Sherman Fairchild Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology. "That's the theme in this work. The reason the research community is not making this vaccine is not that we're not good engineers. We are. The reason is that we don't understand how these patients produce these antibodies, and that's what we're figuring out. If we know how they're doing it, we might learn how to reproduce it."

- see the report from the CBC
- check out the Guardian story
- and here's the PhysOrg article