Thursday September 6 10:47 AM ET

AIDS Vaccine Conference Opens on Optimistic Note

By Deborah Mitchell from Reuters


PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Health) - The first international AIDS vaccine conference opened here Wednesday night on a cautiously optimistic note.

"There is a new optimism in the international scientific community that an AIDS vaccine will ultimately be possible, although it will not be available soon,'' Dr. David Baltimore, chairman of the US Vaccine Research Committee, told conference participants.

Because of the nature of HIV, the development of an effective AIDS vaccine presents "a problem of a magnitude we've never seen before,'' Baltimore told Reuters Health. "We've learned that (neutralizing HIV) antibodies don't work very well, and we've learned that there's a whole other arm of the immune system that may be sufficient to at least provide control--that's the cytotoxic T lymphocyte arm of the immune system,'' he explained. The challenge now, he added, is "how to induce those cells and how to keep these cells going.''

Some of the more exciting reports to be presented at the conference will deal with animal studies, Baltimore continued. Many papers will show definitive protection against non-human primate HIV infection. Some interesting data are coming from trials using DNA vaccines given a boost with adenovirus, poxviruses and other viruses.

Baltimore also stressed the global nature of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is "one that will require international collaboration.'' Over 1,000 delegates from all over the world are convening here to exchange the latest findings on clinical trials, the development of the disease, and new vaccine candidates. Many experts believe that AIDS vaccine research has progressed farther in the last 10 years than had been expected.

"There is a renewed confidence and optimism that an AIDS vaccine is feasible,'' scientific program chairwoman Dr. Beatrice H. Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham told participants. But she cautioned that "all sectors of society will need to come together to make this a reality.''

The conference was organized by the Foundation for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development and is cosponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and France's Agence Nationale de Researches sur le SIDA.