Cooperation in the search for an AIDS vaccine is intensifying with the
creation of a new initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United
Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to promote the development of a vaccine.
The WHO-UNAIDS HIV Vaccine Initiative is set to heighten international
cooperation into AIDS vaccines in the face of mounting urgency as the epidemic spreads.
The initiative is guided by a new joint WHO-UNAIDS HIV Vaccine Advisory Committee, which
meets for the first time from 21st to 23rd February.
"The new initiative provides an independent forum where everyone
working on HIV vaccines, from North or South, from industry or from research agencies, and
from affected communities, can identify common ground for collaboration and
coordination," said Dr Jose Esparza, Coordinator of the new initiative. "This
should help capitalize on the extensive experience of all organizations."
The HIV Vaccine Initiative will focus on strengthening the capacity in
developing countries to ensure that vaccine trials are conducted with the highest ethical
and scientific standards.
A major challenge facing HIV vaccine development is finding a vaccine
which will be effective worldwide, including developing countries, where 95% of infections
"Vaccines are among the most cost-efficient interventions to
prevent infectious diseases," said Professor Barry Bloom, Dean of the Harvard School
of Public Health and head of the new joint WHO-UNAIDS Vaccine Advisory Committee. "We
are fortunate that new initiatives are being proposed to expand availability of existing
vaccines in developing countries and to conduct research to develop new ones," he
According to Dr Esparza, the multitude of HIV strains and the number of
potential vaccines being tested make it imperative to coordinate research efforts.
"Vaccine development efforts require concentrated international coordination and
collaboration, with the full involvement of industrialized and developing countries, the
public and private sectors, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and the
pharmaceutical industry," he said. "They also require the creation of financial
incentives to stimulate more research and development."
"There is clearly a need for a body which can broker partnerships
between the public and private sectors. Without these partnerships, a viable vaccine may
never happen," Dr Esparza said.
Less than 20 years after AIDS was identified, it has become the most
important infectious disease, the first cause of death in Africa and the fourth worldwide.
More than 15 000 new HIV infections occur every day, most of them in developing
countries, and over 33 million people now live with HIV or AIDS.
The involvement of both WHO and UNAIDS in promoting AIDS vaccine
development goes back nearly a decade. In 1991, WHO spearheaded a vaccine development
effort that assisted Brazil, Thailand and Uganda in elaborating the framework to conduct
vaccine trials under the highest ethical and scientific standards. All three countries
either have conducted, or are now conducting, such trials.
The AIDS vaccine effort shifted to UNAIDS after the Programme's
creation in 1996. UNAIDS established a vaccine team whose advisory committee was headed by
Professor Bloom. The committee, which has now become a joint WHO-UNAIDS committee,
provided a unique forum for collaboration, where scientists from different agencies and
disciplines were able to meet to exchange ideas and explore future avenues of research.
The urgent need to accelerate the development of an AIDS vaccine
prompted UNAIDS and WHO to join forces and officially establish the HIV Vaccine Initiative
to coordinate that development. The joint initiative will profit from the experience of
both organizations and from existing wisdom gleaned from vaccine efforts against two other
major killers, tuberculosis and malaria.
"This is the ideal team," said Dr Esparza. "UNAIDS
brings with it its expertise in social and behavioural research and community
participation, which is essential for the conduct of human vaccine trials. Any future
vaccine is also an integral component of AIDS prevention and control."
"WHO brings its vast experience in vaccinology and the conduits it
has established with pharmaceutical firms in developing earlier vaccines. WHO will also be
essential in the delivery of an effective vaccine once it is discovered," Dr Esparza
For more information, please contact Anne Winter, UNAIDS, Geneva, (+41
22) 791.4577, Gregory Hartl, WHO, Geneva, (+41 22) 791.4458, Dominique de Santis, UNAIDS,
Geneva, (+41 22) 791.4509 or Andrew Shih, UNAIDS, New York, (+ 1 212) 584.5024.
also visit the UNAIDS Home Page on the Internet for more information about the programme