Last month, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a challenge to HIV/AIDS scientists: design an AIDS-fighting protein to win $150,000. The winning protein design and sample will advance HIV vaccine development, and the winning researchers could receive a bonus of up to $1 million and/or the chance to pursue their research further with help from IAVI. The deadline is Feb. 26, 2009, and more details are posted on InnoCentive, a community that promotes open innovation.
The challenge is a win–win situation, and it’s good news considering some of the recent frustrations and disappointments in the world of AIDS vaccine research. Last spring, The Independent reported an overall pessimistic view held by the research community in its story, “Is it time to give up the search for an AIDS vaccine?” The failure of Merck’s vaccine trial in late 2007 was a major setback to the field, and the announcement of Roche’s halt of its HIV research program last July didn’t help morale.
In a May 2008 column, Requiem for a Vaccine, PharmTech Editor-in-Chief Michelle Hoffman discussed the scientific community’s distress and its strategy to get back to basic research in hopes of finding new answers. This plan was recently echoed by Luc Montagnier, co-winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine and the co-discoverer of the HIV virus, when he joined the advisory board of the biotechnology company Viral Genetics. Montagnier said of his appointment last month:
“While some preventive candidate vaccines failed to protect against HIV infection, and since there is no treatment able to cure the disease, it is important to come back to basic research and to explore new ways of research and treatment such as those explored by Viral Genetics. This is why I joined the advisory board of this company.”
The year ended with announcements of progress of treatments and vaccines on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2008. GeoVax Labs outlined the launch of Phase II clinical trials of its vaccine at 12 sites involving 225 patients. The trials are a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Also, a report released by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) found there are 109 medicines currently in development for HIV/AIDS, 29 of them vaccines. Moving beyond the setbacks and pessimism of 2008, the World AIDS Day announcements bring new hope for fighting the disease.