Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, talks about he way to a perfect vaccine.
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Seth Berkley on the Future of Aids Initially, people wanted to create an antibody-based vaccine and the first antibody-based vaccine turns out it made great antibodies against a lab-adapted strain, a strain that was adapted from the laboratory. But when you tested it against the circulating viruses, it didn’t provide protection. The decision was made not to move that forward but then, the company that made that vaccine, an entrepreneur spun off another company, took that vaccine, raised money privately and it was tested because his logic was that was an experiment in a test tube. We need to see it in people. We know it’s safe. We know it produces antibodies. Does it do anything? The trial was done in the early-2000s and it showed that it didn’t work. So the antibody vaccines, we didn’t know how to do it. People switched over to the other arm of the immune system, that’s cellular immunity. Antibodies are the chemicals in the bloodstream that attach to a foreign body very specifically and then it gets destroyed. Cellular immunity is once cells are infected, they’re the parts of the body that gobble up those cells. So people switched to a cellular immunity. Nobody’s ever made a vaccine exclusively for cellular immunity but they felt they could do it. They worked really hard and recently, we’ve had a vaccine tested by the Merck Corporation. It was perceived at that time as the best of that class of vaccines and it just came out in September that it didn’t provide protection. That was a big deal not only for that but also there was some suggestion that people who got the vaccine might have an increased risk of infection. This had a pretty chilling effect across the field but many scientists had already realized that this vaccine was unlikely to work on its own; certainly unlikely to be the proverbial home run. So there’s been a movement back to trying to solve the neutralizing antibody problem. We have a program that’s very active, a consortium of scientists around the world that’s our main focus; but also, not to ignore the cellular immunity and to create better vaccines there. So we believe that the next advance is going to be a product that protects in people but that has both of those components brought together and that would make it similar to other types of vaccines. So that’s kind of where the state of the science is right now.