As 2009—what has been referred to as a banner year in AIDS vaccine research and development—draws to a close, there are many exciting advances to highlight and reflect upon. Not the least of these was the first hint of vaccine-induced protection against HIV infection to emerge from a clinical trial. The 16,000-person RV144 trial in Thailand brought unexpected results—the prime-boost regimen many researchers in the field had all but written off, provided a modest but statistically significant 31% protection against HIV infection. Although this is just one step on the road to the development of a safe and effective vaccine, it was a positive signal, both scientifically and symbolically. These results have energized the field and reinforced the importance of clinical evaluation in the vaccine development process. At the same time, however, researchers continue to refine and enhance non-human primate models, which will likely contribute to development of improved vaccine candidates (see Monkey Models: Far from Extinct). The surprising results of RV144 also show that protection against HIV infection, what seemed a difficult goal to reach without the induction of neutralizing antibodies, may be possible.
Another highlight of 2009 was the discovery of five new broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, the first additions to the antibody armamentarium in a decade. Some of these potent new antibodies have unique binding sites that represent vulnerable spots on the virus, which could be exploited by researchers in an effort to design vaccine immunogens.
With all of these developments, there is much to capitalize on in the coming years. The IAVI Report team looks forward to tracking the latest research and bringing these evolving stories to our readers. This includes the hunt for possible correlates of protection from RV144, other trials that are underway that may also provide useful insights, and steady advances in basic research. We will continue to find new ways of bringing this work to life, including profiles, like the one featured in this issue of Sriram Subramaniam, whose innovative approach to studying HIV yields both stunning and detailed images of the virus within cells (see The Beauty Behind the Beasts). Additionally, we will continue to monitor and report the latest news on other HIV prevention strategies (see A Cut Above the Rest, and Microbicide Candidate Fails in Phase III Trial), and policy and economic developments that may impact the field (see Update on Pandemic Shows New HIV Infections Steadily Declining, and Progress and Promise).
Here’s to a banner year and an even brighter future.
—Kristen Jill Kresge, Managing Editor