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The Search for an HIV Vaccine Continues

Posted Feb 18 2009 12:01pm

by Jim Maynard
The HIV Vaccine research community was excited to learn of Dr. Bruce Walker’s recent grant of 100 million dollars from Cambridge high tech software developer Philip Ragon and his wife Susan to fund the Ragon Institute.  Such a generous and committed donation – 10 million dollars per year for 10 years– will allow Dr. Walker and his collaborators at MGH, MIT, and Harvard to do the basic research needed to advance the knowledge needed for the development of a safe and effective vaccine against HIV infection.   This initiative and similar collaborations around the world are answering basic immunological questions that build towards the development of a vaccine to stop the pandemic.

Finding a safe and effective vaccine will require more than bench work to develop new vaccine products.  When promising vaccines are developed and then successfully tested on animal models, the final stage is human test trials. Very few vaccines ever make it to this stage but when they do, the key to a successful vaccine trial is the community members who support it, as well as those who roll up their sleeves as study participants.  The Fenway Institute at Fenway Health is part of the Harvard–Fenway Health Clinical Trials Unit of the HIV Vaccine Trail Network (HVTN), one of several sites around the world taking part in clinical trials of promising vaccines for the National Institute of Health (NIH).  Fenway has been a part of dozens of such trials, most of which were very small and focused on vaccine safety.  Later this year, however, we will take part in a larger scale trial on a vaccine product developed by the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases (NIAID) that will involve 1350 HIV negative men who have sex with men recruited from multiple sites around the United States. By answering fundamental immunological questions, building our base of knowledge, and working hand in hand with individuals such as Dr. Walker who develop the vaccines, we can look with hope toward a vaccine effective against HIV.

Readers can find out more about this and other HIV vaccines in clinical trials by going to

Jim Maynard, MDiv is CORE Manager for Research and Evaluation for the Fenway Institute at Fenway Community Health.  He also serves as Community Educator for the Harvard–Fenway Health Clinical Trials Unit of the HVTN.

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