HIV :: $9.7 Million Gates Grant for Pediatric AIDS Vaccine Research

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation has received a five-year, $9.7-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and test candidate vaccines to prevent HIV infection in children.

The HIV vaccine program supported by the grant will be the first of its kind to support basic research and clinical trials specific to breast-feeding infants.

Pamela W. Barnes, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, unveiled the pediatric vaccine program today on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day and praised the Gates Foundation for including children in a global effort to discover an HIV vaccine.

?We are profoundly grateful to the Gates Foundation for recognizing the special needs of children in the fight against AIDS,? Barnes said. ?Children have been virtually absent from HIV vaccine research despite having the most to gain from such a discovery. Almost 14 percent of all new HIV infections are in babies who acquire the infection from their mothers, most of whom quickly develop AIDS without treatment. We hope to make discoveries that bring us one step closer to the first generation of HIV-free and HIV-protected individuals.?

The grant will fund up to eight basic and/or pre-clinical research studies to address critical questions regarding breast milk transmission of HIV and pediatric immunity. The program also will fund up to three Phase I clinical trials to move promising candidate HIV vaccines into pediatric populations.

To date there have only been two vaccine trials aimed at blocking transmission of the virus from mother-to-child, either during childbirth or through breast-feeding. Researchers have found that an infant population at risk of HIV infection through breast-feeding is uniquely positioned to benefit from a preventative vaccine. An effective vaccine, dosed shortly after birth, would not only protect the child from HIV during the breast-feeding period, but could offer long-term or even life-long immunity from the virus. A protective vaccine would allow HIV-positive mothers to safely breast-feed for an extended period of time, providing babies in resource-limited settings with important nutrition and basic health protections.

?Vaccinating children has been the key to tackling the world?s deadliest epidemics, and HIV could be the next chapter in that story,? said Barnes. ?It is absolutely vital that we start to include children in HIV vaccine research, or we may miss important discoveries that only pediatric research could reveal. We don?t want to be celebrating the discovery of an HIV vaccine and then stop and realize it?s ineffective or unsafe for children. We need research aimed both at children and adults, and the Gates Foundation is helping make that possible.?

Since 1988, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation has provided $10 million to support 41 separate studies related to pediatric vaccine research. The new grant from the Gates Foundation will lead to a significant expansion of EGPAF?s ability to fund critical vaccine research. In 2006, more than 500,000 children contracted HIV ? most as a result of mother-to-child transmission of the virus. Experts estimate that one in three cases of mother-to-child transmission of HIV occur through breast-feeding. An effective vaccine could prevent a huge share of these transmissions and avert thousands of childhood deaths per year caused by AIDS.

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