Bhopal, 25 October
History beckoned, but eluded the recent ‘AIDS Vaccine Conference’ in Barcelona as there was no report of success in developing a truly effective vaccine against HIV that emerged from the gathering.
Nonetheless, the conference did enter the annals of history for being the 13th and also the last edition of the world’s only scientific meeting devoted exclusively to HIV vaccine research. 2014 onwards, there will be a unified HIV prevention research conference, bringing together what till now used to be two separate conferences–one on HIV vaccines and the other on microbicides and therapeutic treatment.
The first of the unified biennial conferences, titled ‘HIV Research for Prevention: Vaccine, Microbicide and ARV-based Prevention Science (HIV R4P)’, will be held in Cape Town.
"HIV R4P will promote cross-fertilisation of all potential synergies in research and implementation of different prevention strategies in the fight against HIV/AIDS," believes Robin Shattock, Professor of Mucosal Infection and Immunity at Imperial College, London.
However, combining different streams of HIV prevention strategies might not have been the only reason behind the decision to club the conferences. Funding, or the lack of it, is seen as one of the major reasons.
The most recent report of the ‘HIV Vaccines and Microbicides Resource Tracking Working Group’, points out: ‘…the overall funding prospect (for HIV prevention research and development) is essentially one of stagnation’.
According to the report, nearly US$10 billion has been spent in the past 8 years on HIV prevention R&D. Of this, about US$7 billion was spent on HIV vaccine research, while funding for microbicide research was almost US$2 billion. The United States remains the largest investor, accounting for about 70 per cent of global investments in HIV prevention R&D.
The report apprehends that austerity-driven budget reductions across the US government would necessitate increased funding from other donors including BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries and recommitment from traditional HIV/AIDS donor countries within the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). The report also points out that it is equally vital to engage non-traditional donors in the importance of HIV prevention R&D.
"We do not have enough funds for conducting vaccine research," conceded Columbia University’s Dr Scott M Hammer, who was the protocol chair of the HVTN 505 HIV vaccine trials that were discontinued in April 2013.
Dr Eric Hunter of Emory University, USA, echoed the same sentiments. "There is no denying that more funds are necessary for global efforts towards HIV prevention research," said Dr Hunter, who has been named as a co-chair for the first ‘HIV R4P’ conference next year.
The writer is a Special
Representative with The Statesman, and attended the AIDS Vaccine 2013 conference between 5-10 October.