Image Courtesy: Gerd Altmann
Medical research took a blow last week when a major AIDS vaccine study sponsored by Merck, an international developer, manufacturer and distributor of pharmaceuticals, was called off after preliminary results showed no decline in HIV-infection among those who received the vaccine.
Furthermore, concern that the vaccine actually increased the participants’ risk of infection was brought about, damaging the likelihood of garnering participants in future AIDS studies. Though this claim has not yet been substantiated, sponsors of the study are in full damage control mode, trying to clear the air about the safety of clinical studies.
An Unfortunate Development
This is unfortunate news not only for the medical community and for those suffering from HIV/AIDS, but it is also discouraging to know that such a public mistake could have been avoided. A rush to start trials of vaccines and drugs frequently comes from sponsors offering large financial backing – that is pharmaceutical companies, hoping to reap the benefits of any successes within the trial.
HIV Drugs are Big Market
HIV drugs are already an $8 billion market and the success of a study like Merck’s could increase that number significantly. But at what price to the participants, and to the medical researchers, who so dearly need to find answers? Merck has now agreed to “unblind” those who participated in this latest study, meaning they will disclose whether the participant received a placebo or the actual vaccine. Gee Merck, you are far too kind!
Still, it could be worse — in countries where big-name sponsorship doesn’t exist, the idea of cashing in on a revolutionary drug or vaccine prompts researchers to start trials that have been studied so little, they’re likely to have consequences on humans, and the participants knowingly take the risk.
The vaccine’s failure comes as a disappointment to AIDS researchers, the experts said. However, the notion that the vaccine actually heightened users’ risk for infection is still far from certain, they added. …………If the trend seen in the study is confirmed, it could mean changes in the way the organizers of vaccine trials recruit participants in the future, they said. ………..Both experts stressed that trial participants should always do their best to prevent exposure to HIV and not assume that an experimental vaccine gives them added protection.
Hopefully, intelligent minds in the medical community will come together and find a cure/vaccine for this dreaded disease. Until then, those affected with HIV will have to cross their fingers and wish for the success of any such future studies.
Fallout from failed AIDS vaccine could dampen research [HealthDay]
Vaccine risks cloud race of good intentions [Telegraph]
HIV drug market mutates [CNN]
Adrienne writes for special-interest magazines and has worked on the production of women’s lifestyle channels at AOL as well as at E! Entertainment Television. She graduated from CUNY Baruch, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the award-winning student newspaper The Ticker.