Outside editorial: The good news about AIDS vaccine research

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2007

This week, the international brain trust behind the search for the elusive HIV/AIDS vaccine is meeting in Seattle, a fitting venue as this city grows more renowned for infectious-disease research.

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Nearly 1,000 scientists from around the world who gathered for the AIDS Vaccine 2007 Conference have a lot to share, much of it good news. Optimism is high for good reason. Collaborative efforts, solidified by creation of the Global HIV/AIDS Vaccine Enterprise seven years ago, are yielding fruit. Thirty-three vaccine candidates are undergoing human trials on every continent.

Results from the two most-promising candidates could be out next year. One is being developed by Merck and tested in a large clinical trial at sites in the U.S., Canada, Peru, Brazil and several Caribbean countries. The other is being developed by the National Institutes of Health.

These are exciting times in immunological and infectious diseases arenas. Some exhilaration will spread to the general public as the realization of this battle's frontier becomes apparent. One or several vaccines are needed weapons for a disease in which infections far outpace treatment.

Treating those infected with HIV or who have full-blown AIDS is critical. But no one should forget that there is no way out of the AIDS epidemic without a vaccine.

Seattle has become a gateway for such efforts. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year put $287 million behind the collaborative efforts of 165 scientists from 19 countries. Long-term grants and improved funding from nonprofit organizations and the federal government have attracted more scientists, including younger ones, to the vaccine search.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, a leader in basic and applied research, is home to many of the brightest stars in HIV/AIDS research, including Dr. Lawrence Corey, who 20 years ago established the first human clinical trial.

The combination of top scientific minds and Seattle's significant investment in biomedical research makes our community proud.

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