Promising AIDS vaccines remain untested

A vaccine to protect against HIV/AIDS remains elusive Copyright: CDC

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A range of promising HIV/AIDS vaccines developed by European scientists are not being tested in clinical trials, said frustrated researchers yesterday (21 September).

Over 200 delegates at a meeting in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, heard that Europe’s efforts to work with African scientists through the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) are failing.

“The EDCTP was one mechanism by which Europe was trying to engage and develop partnerships with African scientists,” said Fred Binka of the Ghana-based INDEPTH secretariat, which organised the meeting to plan for future clinical trials.

“We are three or four years down the line, no grants are coming, there’s frustration on all sides — and someone has to sit down and admit that,” said Binka. “We don’t want to wait forever.”

The EDCTP was set up in 2003 to help vaccine researchers in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa share information and resources, with the aim of creating new vaccines against malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. But progress has been slow.

Hans Wolf and colleagues at the University of Regensburg, Germany, developed a promising HIV/AIDS vaccine candidate in collaboration with the European research project EuroVac, but are still waiting for a reply to a first trial proposal they sent to the EDCTP two years ago.

The EDCTP acknowledges that the process of setting up clinical trials for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis vaccines has been slow, but says plans for a faster ‘brokering process’ have been drawn up.

“Stakeholder meetings will discuss the most promising candidate vaccines and come to a consensus about which ones to trial through our network,” the chair of the EDCTP’s board, Diana Dunstan, told SciDev.Net. She expects the plans to be endorsed at the next board meeting in early October.

Wolf welcomes the plans, but cautions that the EDCTP promised the brokering process in May.

“We don’t want any more talking, we want action,” he told SciDev.Net.

“Every month of delay, almost 400,000 people die of HIV/AIDS,” says Wolf. “The EDCTP needs to show energy and commitment to this urgent need in Africa.”

Fred Binka is a SciDev.Net trustee and co-chair of the advisory panel for SciDev.Net’s malaria dossier.