Despite some recent setbacks, the ultimate goal of a safe, effective and accessible AIDS vaccine is very much a possibility, but companies should focus on smaller studies before potential candidates are moved into large scale efficacy trials.

This is the view of the not-for-profit International AIDS Vaccine Initiative which has unveiled its blueprint to accelerate development of a jab to eliminate the disease at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. IAVI chief executive Seth Berkley said that “the quest to develop an AIDS vaccine is at a pivotal moment”, especially in the wake of the failure of Merck & Co’s V520 jab last year.

Indeed, “some have questioned whether we will ever have an AIDS vaccine,” he claimed. However, Dr Berkley addressed sceptics by saying that developing a jab “may take more time and innovation than we might have once imagined, but we are confident that science will prevail”.

The blueprint contains a number of recommendations, such as solving the neutralising antibody problem and inducing effective cell mediated immunity responses. It also argues that current and future AIDS jabs need to be compared and prioritised in comparison to tested vaccines and “those…that cannot demonstrate superiority should be dropped”.

IAVI adds that resources from these candidates should be re-directed towards “solving the key scientific problems currently impeding the development of the next generation of AIDS vaccine candidates”. Those potential vaccines that do meet “pre-defined, mutually-agreed upon criteria”, on the other hand, should be tested “in rapid, small test-of-concept trials before they are moved into conventional large scale efficacy trials”. It also recommends accelerating the development of replicating vector-based vaccines.

“We’ve come a long way in AIDS vaccine discovery and development”, Dr Berkley said, “but recognise that there’s a long road ahead and there will be further bumps on that road”. The blueprint is intended to “stimulate debate within the field that we hope will generate consensus on the most promising way forward,” he concluded.