The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced yesterday a $287 million donation to fund AIDS vaccine research and establish an international network focused on vaccine development.
The main goal of the 16 individual grants is to shift the development process from independent efforts in separate laboratories to large-scale collaborative efforts stretching across many labs and countries.
"Traditional ways of making vaccines, which have worked well against other diseases, have largely failed for HIV," said Dr. Giuseppe Pantaleo of the University Hospital Center of Vaudois in Lausanne, Switzerland, one of the grantees. "Success will require bold new scientific approaches."
Eleven of the grants, totaling $195 million, are for multinational projects to improve the ability of potential vaccines to stimulate the two kinds of immunity: antibodies that can attack a broad spectrum of AIDS viruses and immune cells that can destroy infected cells before viruses reproduce.
Pantaleo and others, for example, will attempt to modify existing vaccine candidates based on poxviruses so that they provoke a much stronger immune response.
"A vaccine that would provide as much as 60 percent efficacy would make a huge impact on the HIV epidemic," said Dr. Juliana McElrath of the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle, another grantee.
Nearly 100 AIDS vaccine candidates are now in trials around the world, but experts agree that none is likely to provide significant protection against the virus.
The other five grants, totaling $92 million, are for establishing central laboratories to enhance collaboration among the researchers.