AIDS vaccine funding down 10% in 2008

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Funding for AIDS vaccine research fell by 10% in 2008, the first decline in a decade, according to figures released today by the HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Resource Tracking Working Group.

At the same time, funding for both microbicides and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) increased by 8 and 13%, respectively, in 2008.

“Support and interest in HIV prevention research from public, private and philanthropic funders over the last decade has supported key R&D priorities, moved the field forward and brought us closer to new HIV prevention options,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC).

Glossary

microbicide

A product (such as a gel or cream) that is being tested in HIV prevention research. It could be applied topically to genital surfaces to prevent or reduce the transmission of HIV during sexual intercourse. Microbicides might also take other forms, including films, suppositories, and slow-releasing sponges or vaginal rings.

pathogenesis

The origin and step-by-step development of disease.

UNAIDS

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) brings together the resources of ten United Nations organisations in response to HIV and AIDS.

The 2008 decline in vaccine research was not attributable to the global economic downturn, the working group said. Instead it was partly attributable to the end of the Step and Phambili vaccine trials, which were testing a candidate vaccine developed by Merck. The Step trial showed that the product was not effective, and the results led to a retrenchment in vaccine research which has redirected research efforts towards basic laboratory research.

However, major vaccine studies are continuing. The South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative announced today the start of a trial to study a vaccine candidate developed by local South African scientists. Results are also expected later this year from the largest vaccine trial ever, which successfully enrolled more than 16,000 participants to study.

A decrease in investment from the US National Institutes of Health contributed to the overall decline of funding for HIV vaccine R&D. The US government investment fell by $39 million, a 6% decrease. Other governments also decreased funding for HIV vaccine research in 2008: European government funding fell by 13% and total funding from other countries (including Brazil, Canada, India, South Africa and Thailand) fell by 16%.

“We face tremendous challenges – both scientific and economic – over the coming years, but we must not lose the momentum we have gained. The field needs sustained support from a range of funders. The AIDS epidemic shows no signs of slowing, and the desperate need for new HIV prevention options will not change,” said Mitchell Warren.

“The worldwide economic crisis has fuelled debate about the best way to invest in global health, with some arguing that AIDS takes up resources at the expense of efforts to deal with other diseases and to improve health systems in the developing world. But given that AIDS is the number one killer in sub-Saharan Africa, and number four in the world, it is imperative that we reverse this pandemic, and that can only be done through improved methods of prevention, including a vaccine. If we can conquer AIDS, we will be able to invest resources in other pressing priorities,” said Seth Berkley, President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

The report, Adapting to Realities: Trends in HIV Prevention Research Funding 2000 to 2008, was released at the Fifth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Cape Town, South Africa by the HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Resource Tracking Working Group.

The report identified investments of almost $1.2 billion in HIV prevention research in 2008, of which $868 million supported vaccine R&D, and $244 million supported microbicide R&D, while other HIV prevention R&D received much lower levels of funding. AIDS vaccine research declined for the first time since 2000, falling by ten per cent from 2007 levels. At the same time, funding for both microbicides and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) increased by 8 and 13%, respectively.

The US government was once again the primary funder for HIV prevention research, supporting 71% of HIV vaccine R&D and 63% of microbicide R&D, and providing 46% of funding for PrEP prevention research in 2008.

The Working Group comprises the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), the Alliance for Microbicide Development (AMD), the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). More information is available online at www.hivresourcetracking.org.