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DAVOS, Switzerland -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has issued a US$100 million challenge grant to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) in a bid to mobilize global support for the organization and its work to accelerate the development and delivery of a preventive AIDS vaccine.
AIDS, the world's number one cause of death among infectious diseases, killed 500,000 children and 2.5 million adults last year, according to the World Health Organization and UNAIDS. Despite existing prevention efforts, last year 600,000 children and 4.6 million adults became infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The pandemic has reversed decades of social and economic progress in sub-Saharan Africa and is spreading rapidly in India, China and the former Soviet Union.
"It is clear that a widely accessible preventive vaccine is the best hope for ending this pandemic," said Seth Berkley, M.D., president and chief executive officer from IAVI, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "It is also clear that no single government or organization can or should attempt to achieve this goal alone. Our aim is to create a broad-based global movement in which the public and private sectors come together to overcome the scientific, political and economic challenges. That is why we welcome the foundation's challenge to encourage others, large and small, to join this campaign."
Recent scientific advances make it increasingly likely that a vaccine of at least limited efficacy will be ready within a decade. A blueprint on access released by IAVI last year shows that the world should already have begun intensive preparation if this vaccine is to be deployed in the regions of the world that need it most.
"As leaders of government and industry meet in Davos, we should remember that a death from AIDS in Africa brings with it just as much pain as a death of one of our own family or friends. These are not just statistics, they are people like us. The leaders gathered here should go away from Davos with a unanimous and absolute commitment to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. A vaccine is the only way to end AIDS for all time," said Bill Gates, Co-Founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The new funds will be earmarked toward IAVI's US$550 million vaccine development work plan through 2007 that the organization laid out in Scientific Blueprint: 2000, its global strategic plan to accelerate the development of a preventive AIDS vaccine. The funds will also support IAVI's program to help assure global access to an AIDS vaccine once it is developed. With this gift, IAVI has now secured commitments totaling US$230 million, over 40% of its US$550 million campaign. The foundation has made two previous grants to IAVI: US$1.5 million in 1998 and US$25 million a year later. Other major supporters include the Rockefeller, Sloan and Starr Foundations, the World Bank, and five governments.
"Just as our earlier support from foundations helped galvanize a growing cadre of new donors, including the governments of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Ireland and the United States, we believe that this grant will leverage new and increased commitments from donors around the world. Only then will our plan to mount a full-fledged vaccine development and distribution effort be realized," Berkley said. The foundation's new commitment to IAVI extends from 2002 through 2006.
IAVI, whose first AIDS vaccine candidate went into human trials in August, has four different AIDS vaccine candidates for Africa that have entered the R & D pipeline, as well as new programs getting underway in China and India. The organization's Scientific Blueprint envisions sharply compressed time lines for vaccine development and calls for introducing a total of 25 new vaccine candidates into development and prioritizing them through head-to-head comparison trials. This would lead to between six and eight efficacy trials of the most promising concepts by 2007. IAVI has committed to sponsoring eight to 12 of the new vaccine candidates.
IAVI's unique intellectual property agreements help to ensure that the fruits of IAVI-sponsored research will be readily accessible in developing countries. In return for its investments in pharmaceutical or biotech companies, IAVI secures rights that help ensure that a successful vaccine will be sold in developing countries for a reasonable price.
Last year, IAVI launched its new Access Blueprint, which laid out an action plan to assure simultaneous access to a successful AIDS vaccine in developing and industrialized countries. Full implementation of the IAVI blueprint would end the current paradigm of "trickle down vaccination," in which new vaccines take 10 to 15 years to reach developing countries.
IAVI's action plan on access addresses the need for tiered pricing and purchase mechanisms based on accurate estimates of demand; new delivery systems to reach adults at high risk of contracting HIV; regulatory harmonization; and demonstration projects to achieve maximum use of currently underutilized vaccines in developing countries through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.
The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative is an international nonprofit scientific organization founded in 1996 whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world. IAVI's work focuses on four areas: creating global demand for AIDS vaccines through advocacy and education, accelerating scientific progress, encouraging industrial involvement in AIDS vaccine development, and assuring global access to a vaccine once it is developed. IAVI is a collaborating center of UNAIDS. For further information, visit the website.