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AIDS Vaccine Fails in International Test

23 September 2007

The AP reports on Merck’s failed AIDS Vaccine. The vaccine was in stage II of clinical trials, but adverse outcomes were similar across treatment and control groups. Here is a segment of the AP story:

In a disappointing setback, a promising experimental AIDS vaccine failed to work in a large international test, leading the developer to halt the study. Merck & Co. said Friday that it is ending enrollment and vaccination of volunteers in the study, which was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.

It was a high-profile failure in the daunting quest to develop a vaccine to prevent AIDS. Merck’s vaccine was the farthest along and was closely watched by experts in the field.

Officials at the company, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., said 24 of 741 volunteers who got the vaccine in one segment of the experiment later became infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In a comparison group of volunteers who got dummy shots, 21 of 762 participants also became infected.

And here is a link to Merck’s press release about halting the trial.

I’m in the middle of Helen Epstein’s book, The Invisible Cure (2007), and so have thought a lot recently about AIDS vaccines. Her basic characterization of vaccine research based on her early experiences working with the disease are solid for the layman interested in learning more about scientific research about AIDS. The book is a very quick, good read – but if you can’t find a copy in your local library yet, here’s an Op-Ed piece she wrote (not related to vaccine research, but details a major premise of the book).

I’m also currently co-authoring a paper on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and so prevention efforts are at the “top of my head” these days. I’m curious about technological innovations – are advances in medicine the best way to combat the disease? Certainly, vaccines for smallpox and polio have been incredibly effective. However, the nature of HIV – specifically its countless mutations and replications – leads me to question whether a vaccine could ever be developed. I wonder if the West sees medical interventions as necessary because these can be easily controlled and monitored, whereas “behavior change” cannot. Injections across the world seem easier to implement when compared to convincing people to reduce partner concurrency or providing a more reliable economic situation in affected countries – let alone advancing gender equality.

Am I just being a cynic?

One Comment leave one →
  1. sboarden permalink
    24 September 2007 6:21 am

    i think i would prefer to call you a realist. i must say that i feel strongly about promoting behavior change. true, no pandemic has been successfully contained without a vaccine, but there has also never been a virus quite like HIV. it’s rapid mutation is a major challenge for those working to develop a vaccine. i think that is is much easier to pour tons of money into a scientific “silver bullet” as opposed to tackling tougher social/economic/gender issues which contribute significantly to behavioral choices of those most affected by HIV.

    don’t get me wrong, i think that a vaccine is one preventative measure that deserves attention. however, i cant help but think that if we took a broader approach to HIV prevention, we could do more to advance the overall social position of communities. there is potential to not only improve health but quality of life … maybe i’m just being an idealist.

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