The journey towards an AIDS vaccine

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative has published a report highlighting several milestones in the journey towards an AIDS vaccine.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) has published a report highlighting several milestones in the journey towards an AIDS vaccine.

IAVI’s 2014 Annual Report describes how two new antibody-based immunogens are undergoing pre-clinical testing. It also hails a new partnership between African and Indian scientists, which it says will drive knowledge and technology transfer from the Global North to the South.

Panacea for Africa

IAVI has been conducting AIDS vaccine trials in Africa and India in order to build what it describes as “broader, lasting value” in those communities participating in vaccine research. As part of this work in Africa, it has strengthened clinics and research laboratories in Rwanda, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa.

IAVI, and its partners, is training personnel to staff these laboratories, which then provide more people and communities with healthcare and other critical services. IAVI says the programme is not only addressing critical gaps in AIDS vaccine research but is both fostering the transfer of technology and training from the Global North to the South and increasing African participation in clinical trials of next-generation vaccines.

IAVI’s president and CEO Margaret McGlynn said: “IAVI’s increased support for basic research is necessary for future HIV vaccine research. We have heavily invested in physical infrastructure, which distinguishes IAVI from other donors. IAVI has challenged the traditional model of conducting clinical research in Africa.”

Nelson Otwoma, chairman of the Network of People Living with Aids in Kenya (NEPHAK), says the collaboration is timely, in light of worrying trends that suggest access to comprehensive HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support services at public health facilities in Kenya is declining.

“IAVI has strengthened links between communities, policymakers and researchers by ensuring that scientific research is relevant and inclusive. Bringing in key stakeholders has raised the profile of HIV vaccine research and is hugely beneficial for sustainable clinical research,” said Otwoma.

Dr Nicholas Muraguri, medical services director at the Kenyan Ministry of Health, adds that IAVI is working with the Kenyan government and other stakeholders on many interrelated activities that foster knowledge and technology transfer.

Working in India

India is home to the world’s third largest share of people living with HIV, after South Africa and Nigeria. And IAVI is also leading efforts to accelerate vaccine design and development here in order to lay the groundwork toward an effective, affordable and accessible vaccine.

This includes running new international training programmes to strengthen capacity and enhancing links between India, South Africa and East Africa. These programmes involve the transfer of assets and collaborative research work, an exploration of the interplay between HIV and TB, and knowledge sharing about how best to reach men who have sex with men and other marginalised groups.

Accessing affordable, essential medicines

As scientific progress continues in the search for an AIDS vaccine, the need to ensure all people have access to the medication that is currently available remains imperative.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Task Force Report of September 2015 finds persistent gaps in official development assistance and argues that insufficient access to markets, affordable medicines and new technologies highlight the need for increased global partnership for development.

On health, the MDG report states that availability of essential medicines is still low in developing countries. Similarly, the IAVI report calls for regular and more effective monitoring of the cost, availability and affordability of essential medicines, to help minimise current shortages in developing countries.

Both India and Africa implement and use Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as well as other means, such as voluntary license agreements, in order to improve access to essential medicines that are patent protected.

The two reports hail several efforts to increase treatment access, in particular for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, largely owing to a massive influx of national and international funding.

For example, the HIV Vaccine Translational Research Laboratory in Delhi – a partnership founded in 2011 between India’s Translational Health Science and Technology Institute and IAVI – has scaled up its immunogen design and screening activities. The laboratory has also built global partnerships to facilitate joint study design and immunogen evaluation.

Dr Joseph Aluoch, IAVI chair, says the organisation works with many partners to support global health and vaccine research and develop strategic frameworks on HIV and TB.

In Kenya for example, IAVI has supported the government’s national AIDS Strategic Framework, including provisions for vaccine research, and is supporting the development of the national HIV research agenda of the HIV Clinicians’ Society of Kenya.

Dr Aluoch praised this partnership, saying it has enhanced HIV prevention and critical services for many communities.

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