December 2, 2015

Basic Science
Count Me In! Click Here to Register

It Takes a Village:
Progress and Challenges in Vaccine Approaches to HIV Prevention


Magdalena Sobieszczyk, MD, MPH

Associate Professor (Medicine / Infectious Diseases)
PI, Columbia HVTN and ACTG Clinical Research Site
Columbia University

Clubhouse Location:
WHSCAB Plaza and Auditorium (1440 Clifton Rd)
6:00 — wine, cheese, and networking
6:30 — cow bell rings, members and guests are challenged to progress downstairs
6:45 — fascinating talk begins
7:30 — spirited Q&A begins
7:45 — the VDC village adjourns for dinner and more networking

Dear Vacciners,

On April 23, 1984 Margaret Heckler, Secretary of Health under the Reagan Administration, held a press conference about the burgeoning AIDS epidemic. She has taken some heat ever since then over her (supposed) announcement that we would have a vaccine against AIDS produced within two years.

This misquote has been widely disseminated to the point that it even currently appears on the website (see entry under 1984). But according to the press conference transcript (as quoted by Jon Cohen in his book Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine) what she ACTUALLY said was: "we hope to have [a] vaccine ready for testing [emphasis mine] in approximately two years." To her credit, Secretary Heckler turned out to be only off by a year — the FDA approved the first vaccine candidate for human tests three years later, in 1987.

According to the transcript, the person who actually put his foot in it that day was Assistant Secretary for Health Edward Brandt Jr. who said, in response to a question from the press corps about how many years it would be before there would be a vaccine for AIDS on the market: "We're estimating a minimum of two years, probably more like three years. In two years, we think it's possible to begin to start human trials. But I think we have a — one of the first steps that has to be accomplished is to mass-produce this virus in sufficient quantity to accomplish that. So I think we're talking about probably three years. We're going to hustle."

Other than providing ammunition to conspiracy theorists who gleefully claimed that Brandt had just openly admitted that the government was hustling to mass produce the AIDS virus in order to intentionally infect people to provide conscripts for human trials of a vaccine [re-read the quote above without the filter of your scientific knowledge about what it takes to build a vaccine…] — other than that, what did Assistant Secretary Brandt accomplish that day?

How about starting the clock on what has to have been the slowest ever three years in human history? His '3 years' has taken 31, so far, and we still don't have a marketable vaccine.

Which is not to say that the scientific world has stood totally still for the last 31 years. Heck no!!

Since 1984 smart people have invented:
• the Thigh Master
• the BeDazzler
• the Hula Chair
Flowbee (a combo hair cutting tool and vacuum cleaner)
• and the Baby Mop

Also Prozac, DNA finger printing, Facebook, Siri, and the Roller Buggy

But what progress have we made on an AIDS vaccine?

[Spoiler Alert]
Come to the December 2nd meeting of the VDC and find out for yourself when Dr. Sobieszckyk gives an overview of why the development of an AIDS vaccine has been a 31-years-and-counting tough nut to crack, a brief overview of the 'does-it-actually-work?' (aka 'efficacy') trials that have been completed or are on the horizon, and touches on about what is involved in designing and implementing a vaccine study at a time in which WHO advocates proactively putting everyone at risk for HIV on pre-exposure prophylaxis.

It's going to be a really good talk. As Dr. Sobieszczyk said in an email to me recently: "There is considerable energy in the field given the scientific knowledge derived from [AIDS] research efforts. Testing preventive vaccines is part science, part empiricism, and also of course, some luck — just like with so many things in research."

So … feeling lucky? Register now for the meeting.

Hope to see you for Dinner at the Club on December 2nd, - your friendly neighborhood VDC director / goddess