The researchers, advocates, policy makers, and funders gathered in Atlanta this week for AIDS Vaccine 2010 are learning about the latest advances in the field and as well as the formidable challenges remaining in the search for a vaccine.
Last year's conference, in Paris, announced the first modestly effective human vaccine for HIV. A trial by U.S. Army and Thai researchers found that the experimental vaccine RV144 was 31% effective. This year the focus is on building momentum behind that and other recent promising developments.
There is much still to be learned from the Thailand trial, says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "It can give you a lot of insight into where you want to go next. I think that's going to happen over the next several years."
"We need to understand now what the vaccine did to confer that level of protection," says Alan Bernstein, executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise in New York. "How did it work? How did it tweak our immune system to actually confer some level of protection against the virus?"
The enterprise, a global alliance of independent vaccine stakeholders, is hosting the conference, which ends October 1. Bernstein attributed vaccine research successes to growing international cooperation and collaboration in sharing data and information.
"The search for a safe and effective vaccine has entered a new era, marked by progress that includes the isolation of several broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, discoveries that shine new light on human immune responses to HIV infection, and ongoing analysis of the first large-scale human trial to demonstrate that a vaccine can reduce HIV infections," Bernstein says.