SOUTH African researchers are to participate in a search for an
AIDS vaccine with US scientists, the non-governmental
organisation International AIDS Vaccine Initiative announced in
London this week.
Researchers from the University of Cape Town, under the Medical
Research Council, will take part in an international HIV
vaccine research and development partnership.
In what has been hailed as the largest single non-government
research award, the initiative will invest $9,1-million (about
R52-million), to be split equally between a UK-Kenya and a
US-South Africa partnership. Both partnership agreements
include provisions to ensure that the fruits of the research
will be made readily available to the world's worst-hit
The SA group will work on a "Clade C formulation" vaccine to
treat the strain of the AIDS virus found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The project will be one of the first to research a way to
combat this strain.
Council president-elect Dr William Makgoba said: "The council
will work together with IAVI in the development of suitable and
specific vaccines for the people."
Speaking from London, IAVI spokesman Victor Zonana said: "The
intellectual property provisions will ensure that if the
vaccine is successful it will be affordable in developing
countries. It would be criminal if the vaccine was available
only in industrialised countries for 10 to 15 years and then
trickled down into the developing world.
"This has been the situation from time immemorial. Triple
therapy which can prolong life is still unavailable in South
Zonana said the initiative had a global orientation. "Our
contract ensures that companies can charge whatever they want
for the vaccine in industrialised countries, but in developing
countries they would have to make it available at a lower cost.
Eventually we would like to see it being manufactured in South
Zonana said South Africa was a good place to develop the
vaccine as it had a strong medical infrastructure and research
base, a strong manufacturing base and a dire need for the
vaccine as 1 500 people were infected with the virus every day,
adding to the three million people with HIV/AIDS.
The grant will cover the cost of the research. No local funding
is being sought.
President of the initiative Dr Seth Berkley said: "Our goal is
not only to ensure the development of an AIDS vaccine as soon
as possible. It is to make it accessible to anyone in the world
that needs it."
This move will be welcomed worldwide as treatment of HIV/AIDS
infections is extremely costly and the numbers of those
infected with HIV/AIDS grow daily.
According to a report by the Joint United Nations Programme and
the World Health Organisation, 5,8 million more people were
infected in the past year - about 11 men, women and children
every minute. The total number of people living with the virus
rose by a tenth to 33,4 million worldwide. Half of all new
infections are now among people aged 15 to 34.
Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the hardest hit.
Since the epidemic began, 34 million Africans have been
infected and almost 12 million have died. This year there were
an estimated 5 500 funerals a day in the region.
The AIDS vaccine is supported as the best long-term solution to
the global pandemic.
The Elton John AIDS Foundation has donated �150 000 (about
R1,4-million) to the effort and the UK National AIDS Trust will
contribute �80 000 from its recent grant from the Diana,
Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund to help launch a joint
European AIDS vaccine development project with the initiative
The US-SA partnership will be led by Dr Robert Olmstead and Dr
Robert Johnson of Alphavax Corporation in Durham, North
The product will be based on HIV strains from South Africa.
Until now most vaccine candidates have been produced from HIV
strains prevalent in North America and Europe.
The development partnership was recommended for funding by
IAVI's blue-ribbon scientific advisory committee, which
selected them after reviewing a range of proposals from around
According to IAVI, the two projects have two of the most
promising vaccine technologies in the world, far enough
advanced in development that they could be tested quickly on
IAVI's scientific strategy is to ensure that every promising
vaccine design is pursued as quickly as possible.
At the launch in London this week it outlined a strategy of
moving multiple vaccine candidates forward in partnership with
vaccine producers and developing countries.