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October 7, 2008

NIH Calls for
AIDS Do-Over

Biggest party of the season—and it's free: Bisnow's Democrats v. Republicans Hip Happy Hour. 1,500 people from all Washington industries. The great Park at Fourteenth. Oct 15, 6-8 PM, stay and watch the debate. No charge, but you must sign up!


Perhaps our playground lingo lacks gravitas, but NIH's Anthony Fauci and Peggy Johnston did write in the New England Journal of Medicine that they are shifting funds back to basic HIV research and away from empirical vaccine development. We tracked down Peggy, Assistant Director for HIV/AIDS Vaccines at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to find out when, or if, we might see another vaccine trial. Also, we talked about monkeys.


The decision to rearrange funds follows the abrupt termination of last year's Merck STEP vaccine trial after data revealed it did not prevent infection or lower virus levels. Later review also showed new infections were higher for certain vaccine recipients than those given placebos. Peggy says they've allotted $10 million in first year costs to fund applications received in response to a just issued Request for Application for Discovery. She has cautious optimism but admits, "We may not be able to develop an HIV vaccine that is highly effective in the classic sense of successful viral vaccines."


Peggy says for any new vaccine to reach testing phase, it would have to specifically address HIV's unique barriers: One, it's highly variable, so a vaccine would have to protect against many different forms. Two, it hides within host cells so rapidly after infection that the window of opportunity for eradication is remarkably tiny. We suggested they look into ways of increasing that window, and Peggy graciously said they are already working on that.
Great minds . . .


The NIH budget has been level for five years, so the increased discovery research funds must come out of other programs. There will be no new grants or contracts awarded to advance new candidate vaccines into clinical trial in '09 and '10. Peggy also says the focus on discovery research is expected to require more macaques than are currently available. (Free Bisnow suggestion: Try classifying the macaques as "office morale boosters." You'd get the money because, c'mon, try looking a monkey in the eye without laughing.) Peggy's doing her part to save money in other ways. She's had her motorcycle license for three years and regularly gets 50+ mpg on her commute.

Curtis Raye will be at Children's tonight for the Child Health Advocacy Institute's first anniversary. Find him and say hi. The secret word is macaque. Send your events to

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Zegna Adrian Jules Dormeuil email