This post is by Center Director Christine Lubinski.
Researchers outlined progress and challenges in the pursuit of vaccines for the three major infectious disease killers—HIV , tuberculosis and malaria—at a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill Monday. Dr. Hoosen Coovadia, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, set the tone for this collaborative briefing, entitled “New Promise in the Search for HIV, TB and Malaria Vaccines,” by noting that from his perspective as a South African physician, vaccines for these three deadly diseases were not conflicting priorities, but all critical to protect the citizens of his country. “One can’t choose what people will die from,” he said.
Drs. Alan Bernstein, executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, and Dan Barouch, chief of the Division of Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, highlighted the ups and downs of HIV vaccine development by noting that only 3 HIV vaccine concepts have been tested in the last quarter century. But they also celebrated the latest results of the so- called Thai trials, which demonstrated a 31percent reduction in HIV acquisition for those who received the vaccine compared to placebo. While this level of protection is too low to bring a product to market, it does suggest that a preventive vaccine is indeed possible, and these findings offer an unprecedented opportunity to explore and investigate the nature of that protection.
Dr. Gordon Douglas, executive chair of the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, called tuberculosis the most neglected of all infectious diseases and joked he was “even amazed that we are on the program.” Eight years ago, when Aeras started, there were no TB vaccine candidates in clinical development. Since then, nine candidates have been brought forward. Dr. Coovadia, a member of the Aeras board, outlined a number of urgent reasons to develop a TB vaccine, including the scale of morbidity and mortality from TB, growing drug resistance, the deadly synergy between HIV and TB and the very limited effectiveness of the BCG vaccine. The BCG vaccine only prevents disseminated tuberculosis in very young children; it has no impact on pulmonary tuberculosis in children or adults. AERAS has two promising TB vaccine candidates in Phase IIB clinical trials in the developing world and hopes to have results in 6-7 years. In pressing forward on vaccine development, AERAS has been mindful of the issue of access to the vaccine every step of the way and has not considered candidates that would be too costly to manufacture for mass distribution.
Colonel Chris Ockenhouse, director of the U.S. Military Malaria Vaccine Program, and Dr. Ashley Birkett, from the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, briefed the audience about progress towards developing a malaria vaccine. The US military has been working in the field of malaria for decades, given the infection risk to US troops deployed in many parts of the world. (more…)