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AIDS Vaccine Challenge at Half-Way Mark -- Advocacy Coalition Sounds Alarm --

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May 17, 2002

NEW YORK (May 17, 2002) - Today, the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) issued its fifth independent assessment of AIDS vaccine development from a community perspective. Entitled "Five Years & Counting; Science, Urgency and Courage," the report finds that the campaign to identify an effective AIDS vaccine needs to move more candidate vaccines into clinical trials, and cites the pressing need for increased community engagement and public pressure to accelerate research efforts.


"Five years ago the White House issued a challenge to the nation - to develop an AIDS vaccine within a decade," said AVAC Executive Director, Chris Collins. "This month we hit the halfway mark and many scientists believe we will not meet the deadline, or even come close."

The report notes some positive scientific news on AIDS vaccines, but also identifies significant challenges ahead. Last winter, plans to move forward with an efficacy trial on one vaccine candidate were canceled when initial testing revealed disappointing immune responses among vaccine recipients. "HIV continues to spread at the alarming rate of nearly 14,000 new cases each day. Additional basic research, clinical trials and new, creative approaches to vaccine design are all badly needed," said Michael Powell, PhD, Chair of the AVAC Board of Directors.

Need for More Clinical Trials
While AVAC's review finds that the U.S. government's HIV/AIDS vaccine research effort is now moving with increasing energy to develop products and move them into trials, past under-investment in AIDS vaccines by both government and industry has led to a gap in products ready for human testing today.

"There has been only one candidate AIDS vaccine available that is prepared to move forward into Phase III trials. This is only partly because of the significant challenges presented by HIV, but also due to the failure of public and private sectors to fully engage in the vaccine effort for many years or to focus on more than one approach at a time," said Powell. "At last, there are now more vaccine candidates in the pipeline that need to be moved forward into clinical testing as swiftly as possible."

The AVAC Fund
One specific measure that AVAC is undertaking is the AVAC Fund, which will award small-scale emergency grants to sites around the world embarking on HIV vaccine clinical research. The money will help purchase equipment and supplies not covered by research protocols, but needed to support the work of scientists and communities. Starting small, but promising ease and speed in its grant-making, the AVAC Fund is designed specifically to give ancillary support to sites in resource-limited settings that are struggling with the devastation of AIDS and taking on the added challenge of testing vaccines.

Signs of New Engagement
AVAC notes that several new programs are furthering developing countries' involvement in AIDS vaccine research. AVAC lauds the creation of the NIH-funded Comprehensive International Program of Research on AIDS, whose mission is to ensure long-term funding for these countries' researchers. In Botswana, the Harvard AIDS Institute has teamed up with the national government to create the Botswana Harvard Partnership for HIV Research and Education, where a vaccine initiative is a central component of this partnership.

In the United States, the NIH's new Vaccine Research Center is now up and running and has entered its first AIDS vaccine into human testing. For the first time, some state governments are also making a contribution. Georgia, for example, uses lottery funds to support Emory University's groundbreaking HIV vaccine research. Still, federal lawmakers have so far failed to pass incentives for research and development on vaccines against malaria, TB and HIV contained in the Vaccines for the New Millennium Act. The bipartisan legislation has been introduced by Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Senator John Kerry.

Call to Increase Public Pressure
The report identifies many improvements in vaccine research infrastructure and regulatory capacity that could be made, but which will require clear and consistent advocacy voices aimed at elected officials, regulatory agencies, scientists, industry, research funders and governments worldwide.

"As much as anything, what we need is public pressure and political will - to increase public and private funding, to ensure ethical research, and to run efficacy trials when products demonstrate safety and promising immune responses," said Collins. "Only public insistence on accelerated, universal access can ensure that an AIDS vaccine conquers the global epidemic, rather than solely benefiting those that are fortunate to live in the world's wealthiest nations."

The AVAC report acknowledges that AIDS vaccine research is likely to be a long-term endeavor and must be pursued in the context of a comprehensive response to the pandemic. "In many ways, AIDS vaccine research can help blaze a trail in health care delivery today," the AVAC report notes. "Communities that participate in AIDS vaccine research are making an enormous contribution to future global health; they deserve tangible benefits today."

About the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition
AVAC is a seven-year-old alliance of advocates dedicated to accelerating the ethical development and global delivery of vaccines for AIDS. Volunteers are located throughout the country, with staff now based in New York City. Through its education and mobilization activities, AVAC stimulates public awareness of the critical need for AIDS vaccines.

AVAC does not accept funding from governments or the pharmaceutical industry. AVAC's annual reports and ongoing policy, advocacy and outreach work are made possible by the dedicated labor of AVAC advocates and contributions from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, Until There's a Cure Foundation, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Gill Foundation, and many generous individuals.

Attention Media
AVAC has created a membership program designed to provide reporters and others with updates on HIV vaccine issues from a community and consumer perspective. Contact AVAC at 212-367-1084 or avac@avac.org.

Copies of "Five Years and Counting" are available from Lauren Mazzella, 212-581-2770 (x26) or lmazzella@senseihealth.com. They also may be downloaded from AVAC's web site.