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Gates Foundation Donates $287 Million for AIDS Research

The grants aim to develop collaborative vaccine efforts involving many labs and nations.

July 20, 2006|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Wednesday a $287-million donation to fund AIDS vaccine research and establish an international network focused on vaccine development.

The main goal of the 16 grants is to shift the development process from independent efforts in separate laboratories to large-scale collaborative efforts involving many labs and countries.

"Traditional ways of making vaccines, which have worked well against other diseases, have largely failed for HIV," said Dr. Giuseppe Pantaleo of the Vaudois University Hospital Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, one of the grantees. "Success will require bold new scientific approaches."

Eleven of the grants, totaling $195 million, are for multinational projects to improve the ability of potential vaccines to stimulate the two kinds of immunity: The first would elicit antibodies that attack HIV; the second would stimulate a cellular response that destroys infected cells before viruses reproduce.

Pantaleo and others, for example, will try to modify existing vaccine candidates based on poxviruses so that they provoke a stronger immune response.

"A vaccine that would provide as much as 60% efficacy would make a huge impact on the HIV epidemic," said Dr. M. Juliana McElrath of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, another grantee.

Nearly 100 AIDS vaccine candidates are now in trials around the world, but experts say none is likely to provide significant protection against the virus.

The other five grants, totaling $92 million, are for establishing central laboratories to enhance collaboration among the researchers.

Three laboratory networks -- at Duke University, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Washington -- will measure immune responses provoked by vaccine candidates, allowing for the first time a direct comparison among the approaches. A fourth laboratory will provide a repository in Germany for research specimens, and the fifth at the Hutchinson site will serve as a data and statistical management center for the networks.

Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, welcomed the Gates funds, but said much more money was needed.

His group reported that $682 million was spent worldwide on AIDS vaccine research in 2004, the latest year for which figures are available. The group estimates about $1 billion per year is needed.

The Gates Foundation has now donated more than $6 billion to global health, including $1.5 billion for the development of vaccines for malaria and other diseases.

Last month, financier Warren E. Buffett announced he would donate an estimated $31 billion to the Gates Foundation, bringing its total endowment to more than $60 billion.

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