U.S. to launch $36 million AIDS vaccine trial
BARCELONA, Spain (CNN) -- U.S. health authorities Monday announced plans to undertake a $36 million trial of an AIDS vaccine, the largest such trial to date.
About 16,000 HIV-negative volunteers will participate in the five-year study, to be co-sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Thai Ministry of Public Health.
Because it will take place in Thailand, the trial has been dubbed the "Thai Vaccine Trial."
Over six months, half of the participants will receive a series of three "primer" shots and two "booster" shots; the other half will receive placebo.
The "prime" part of the vaccine, called ALVAC-HIV, is made by Aventis Pasteur and the "boost," called AIDSVAX-B/E, is made by VaxGen.
Both medications have been studied independently and have generated strong safety records. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chairman of NIAID, expressed optimism.
"There is good reason for excitement, because it's finally going to answer the question whether or not a vaccine works," he told CNN on the second day of the 14th International AIDS Conference here.
The vaccine is designed to prevent freely circulating virus from infecting uninfected cells and to keep the infection from progressing in infected cells.
The trial is scheduled to begin recruiting volunteers this year and to conclude in 2007, with a final analysis expected in 2008.
While advances have been made in the treatment of the disease, medications that prolong life are largely unavailable to people in developing countries, where the epidemic has hit hardest.
Health officials say only an effective, cheap vaccine can make significant inroads into the disease's impact in most areas of the world.
VaxGen president Donald Francis told CNN that finding a vaccine was key to tackling AIDS and that there needed to be a balance between giving a return to investors and providing a drug at a reasonable price.
"These efforts take up to $400 million and investors expect a return on their investment," he added.
News of a possible breakthrough came amid grim warnings about the spread of AIDS and research suggesting the average life expectancy of people in 11 African countries will drop below 40 by 2010. (Full story)
The treatment of AIDS has been held up by wrangles over the price of drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies, with pressure groups such as the World Health Organization pushing for price reductions.
WHO says $10 billion is needed annually to fight AIDS -- nearly three times the current spending.
-- CNN Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta contributed to this report.
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