Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thai Surprise!

Results are in from Thailand, where researchers had mounted the largest clinical trial ever for an HIV vaccine.

Jaws are dropping.

Reuters Health Editor Maggie Fox has a good account here.

The data -- which appear to show the vaccine cut risk of infection by 31.2 percent among 16,402 volunteers -- are an unexpected surprise. When I spoke last year to the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, one of the trial's main sponsors, they seemed resigned to the idea that they were on track for another failure on the heels of the Merck disappointment.

Obviously in the Thai case 30 percent protection is not an unqualified success. But it is something -- and I wonder how much pressure there will be now to roll something out along these lines, even though the Thai vaccine was designed for the HIV strain common there, not the different strains often found in Africa or the United States.

The NIH's Fauci told the Times that scientists would seldom consider licensing a vaccine less than 70 or 80 percent effective, but he added, “If you have a product that’s even a little bit protective, you want to look at the blood samples and figure out what particular response was effective and direct research from there.”

Why and how did this vaccine do its stuff? Will it fire new interest in more clinical trials for different vaccine prototypes? There's certainly a network of trial sites out there looking for work.

We'll see how this plays out in the coming weeks. Meantime I'm afraid my mind has been elsewhere -- specifically at the United Nations, where I am running around after Iran's Ahmadinejad, Libya's Gaddafi and Obama himself. Here's a bit of that effort.