IAVI REPORT – VOL. 14, NO. 4, 2010
Plenty of good news has emerged from AIDS conferences in recent years. It is fair to say, however, that not since the dawn of highly active antiretroviral therapy has an advance been greeted with as much unabashed optimism as the announcement that an antiviral-based microbicide candidate reduced the HIV infection rate in a cohort of South African women by 39%. This was, without a doubt, the biggest news to emerge from the XVIII International AIDS Conference that took place in Vienna in July (see Microbicides Finally Gel, Securing Spotlight at the International AIDS Conference), and was a major boost to the previously beleaguered microbicide field.
The other topic that garnered the most discussion, and debate, in Vienna was the future of HIV/AIDS funding. There were calls for more efficiency in the way money is spent and discussions about new innovative financing proposals that aim to bring in additional funds.
Although there wasn’t much new information on HIV vaccine research, several speakers commented on recent progress in the field, notably, the RV144 trial that showed a prime-boost strategy could reduce HIV infection risk by approximately 31%, and the recent spate of discoveries of new and more potent broadly neutralizing antibodies.
These antibodies, as well as others previously identified, seem to have a high degree of affinity maturation, which means that the antibodies have accumulated several mutations from their germline sequence (see Vaccines to Antibodies: Grow Up!). Researchers are now beginning to understand how affinity maturation affects the ability of the antibodies to neutralize HIV so well and how this may affect the design of vaccine immunogens.
Meanwhile, researchers are also beginning to employ an evolving repertoire of tools that enable them to study the system-wide response to vaccination (see A Systems Approach to Understanding Vaccines). This systems biology approach, which has been used widely in cancer research, is now being used to evaluate existing vaccines, as well as HIV vaccine candidates.
More news from the AIDS vaccine field is expected in September, when researchers will gather in Atlanta for AIDS Vaccine 2010. For more timely updates on the research presented there, visit the recently launched IAVI Report blog. We look forward to your comments.
—Kristen Jill Kresge, Managing Editor