DOCTOR IS IN: When will we get AIDS vaccine?

By Mark Mulligan, MD

Since the mid-1990s, thousands of patients with HIV/AIDS have been successfully treated with combinations of drugs known as “highly active antiretroviral therapy.” In many cases, these drugs have turned a disease that used to be a sure death sentence into a treatable, chronic condition.

Unfortunately, in spite of widespread efforts to prevent HIV, 33 million people around the world are infected, and in the U.S. alone the CDC estimates that about 56,000 persons are newly infected with HIV each year. Since therapy does not cure HIV, every new infection means a person must be treated for life with costly medications.

For this reason, the world desperately needs an HIV vaccine. Historically, vaccines have been our most effective weapons against infectious diseases. Unfortunately, over the past five years, two large clinical trials of HIV vaccines have failed to demonstrate efficacy of the candidate being tested, leaving many to wonder if we should simply give up on an HIV vaccine altogether.

AIDS is too widespread and too devastating a disease to abandon the quest for a vaccine. Scientists have learned many important lessons from past vaccine trials, and there is no reason to give up now.

We should remember that our most important vaccines took decades to develop. The virus that causes polio was discovered in the 1930s. The first vaccines tested in the 1930s were ineffective. In the 1940s and early 1950s, summertime polio epidemics caused fear and panic in many countries. Fortunately, this vaccine research continued despite initial failures.

Progress was based on small but steady scientific advances such as the discovery in 1949 of how to grow the polio virus in the lab. Six years later, Jonas Salk’s inactivated, injected polio vaccine became available. By 1957 the number of new polio cases annually had fallen by 90 percent and the iron lung became a museum relic.

Scientists at the Emory Vaccine Center and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center have been working on an HIV/AIDS vaccine for a decade. Based on DNA and viral vector technology, the vaccine is licensed to the Atlanta biotechnology company GeoVax to bring it to the marketplace.

The vaccine has made it through several early stages of clinical trials and is now being tested in a Phase II clinical trial to understand its effectiveness through the National Institutes of Health-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN). In Atlanta, Emory Vaccine Center’s Hope Clinic is the HVTN clinical site. There are other HIV vaccines also being tested. Another Phase II is undergoing a clinical trial through the HVTN network to test a different HIV vaccine, this one developed at the National Institutes of Health.

As a doctor working with individuals who have HIV or AIDS, I know the toll this disease takes on them and their loved ones. I am very hopeful that an effective HIV vaccine will be developed, and I am proud to be on the front lines of that effort.

Both of the new HIV vaccine clinical trials are aimed at healthy adults at low risk for acquiring HIV. Before we can have a vaccine that protects everyone around the globe, we need volunteers locally who are willing to step forward to participate in clinical trials and help reach this goal.

  • Dr. Mulligan is associate director for Clinical Trials and executive director of the Hope Clinic at the Emory Vaccine Center. He is professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Emory University School of Medicine and principal investigator, Emory Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU) and HIV Vaccine Trials Unit (HVTU). Emory University has an equity interest in GeoVax and is entitled to sales royalties for the vaccine technologies being studied. Emory may financially benefit from these interests, if GeoVax is successful in marketing its vaccine.
  • (Information provided by Emory on this site is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for any questions you may have regarding your health and medical condition. If you rely on any information available through this website, you do so at your own risk. You understand that you are solely responsible for any damage or loss you may incur that results from your use of or reliance on any material or information provided by Emory through this website.)

19 comments Add your comment

Eric Payne

May 27th, 2009
11:21 pm

Since HIV is undetectable until such time as the retrovirus mutates within the host to adapt to and change the host’s DNA, is a virus feasible? Wouldn’t any vaccine be most effective on the host from which the virus was extracted for the vaccine, 50% as effective on those persons the host may have infected – as they’d have to be administered the vaccine after a presumed infection, but prior to their own seroconversion, as the RNA/DNA interchange of the HIV retrovirus would, at that point, be too substantially changed for the vaccine to have much effect? Then that original vaccine would be 25% effective on the person(s) this second host might have presumably infected… and so on down the line, each successive generation of infection, the vaccine becomes half as effective as it was in the previous generation?

The idea of an “HIV vaccine” also strikes me as more than a bit ironic, since the common thinking, now, is that the cross-over from simians (apes), who had long been infected with their own species-specific immunodeficiency virus to humans is due to the initial round of polio vaccines, where that vaccine was created, in Africa, using organs of simians… with the resulting vaccine then being used in humans, where the simian IV adapted to homo sapien’s DNA.


May 28th, 2009
11:44 am

I’m not a conpsiracy theorist by any means, but at this point you have to ask the question asked by Chris Rock in his stand up act a few years ago. When is the last time we cured something ? No money in the cure.


May 28th, 2009
12:35 pm

HIV AND AIDS will never be cured.. The Gov wont allow it! Too much money would be lost in medical bills. not many white peole have it.. minorities and gays are at bigger risk from HIV/AIDS..

The Gov wants to get rid of all all minorities and gays all around the world.. But what they got realize is not everybody gets from having sex. some get it at birth or some get it thru blood donors…

It sucks I hope one day someone cures it and wont be scared to come foward..

Karen Lachey

May 28th, 2009
2:16 pm

Dr. Mulligan, like other vaccine researchers, is hopelessly deluded that vaccines can work for HIV. While conveniently left out of the article, the latest NIH/Merck HIV vaccine, V520, actually increased the odds that subjects would contract HIV. Not exactly successful. Vaccines, by design, evoke antibody production. This pulls immune activity away from what’s called cell-mediated immunity, which involves the hunt for body cells infected with viruses like HIV. Duke University professor Aaron White published an excellent article in Lancet about this a few months back. He argues that an immune molecule called “transfer factor” offers a far more reasonable means of preventing and fighting HIV. Unlike vaccines, published science indicates that transfer factors actually DO work against HIV!


May 28th, 2009
11:03 pm

I think the vac’s are nice, but they in combination with a CCR5 stem cell based therapy the way to go. Those who have full CCR5 are very lucky people.

cliff zeider

May 29th, 2009
11:50 am

Hey, Hiv will never be cured, its the lords revenge. cz


June 1st, 2009
5:48 pm

Did you know AIDS is so bad in the black community because of all the black men on the DL…. see they dont consider themselves gay as long as there the ones poking other dudes in the butt…..
especially in prison, where 90% of the prison rapes are blacks ganging up on whites. Did you know the CDC now reports that 1 in every 15 black males will have HIV in their lifetime?
And that 70% of the infected dont even know they have it yet!
Wow what the media covers up to promote “diversity” huh!


June 2nd, 2009
10:06 am

I’ve heard the comment…”there’s no money in cure” before. However, from an investors point of view, the company licensed to sell a working vaccine will have a stock explosion, creating wealth for all those smart enough to own shares!


June 2nd, 2009
6:00 pm

Listen to have a possible vaccines is a great thing…..there is hope if only we push towards it…..We need more people in these fields that want this to be a success for generation to come, No we may not cure everyone and some will fall by the waste side but that is with anything…So for those who have contracted keep your head up there is a possible cure plus we are advance enough to help people live thru with medications. God loves people hate the sin, so if they do have it it is not a curse it called LIFE……God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference…..

[...] AIDS is too widespread and too devastating a disease to abandon the quest for a vaccine. Scientists have learned many important lessons from past vaccine trials, and there is no reason to give up now. more [...]


June 3rd, 2009
3:31 pm

I agree with the earlier comment concerning revenue generated from treating a disease rather than curing it. As long as there is money in keeping people alive, but sick, I don’t think the concentration will ever be on finding a cure. “Money is the root of all evil” has never been more apparent than when discussing this topic.


June 3rd, 2009
3:59 pm

Aids is a gay man’s disease. Straight black women, are the fastest growing population right now. Black women have so many babies, they are sleeping around quite a bit, and acquiring this disease. It is very sad, and people need to realize it comes with poor economic conditions and no education. There needs to be a cure ASAP.


June 3rd, 2009
5:39 pm

To those saying AIDS is a black or gay disease, here’s some numbers to chew on:

Total AIDS/HIV cases by race/ethnicity:

38.7% White, 40.5% black, 19% hispanic, .7% asian

Sounds like some folks need to out of their silos and educate themselves to the true breadth of the problem. (I’d hate to see the worldwide percentage.)


June 10th, 2009
2:11 am

Dr M has a major stake in GEOVAX, he is just selling his company. Will his vaccine work? That is the question. Should someone buy it just because a doctor tells you he believes in his work? I wouldn’t without more results and disclosure.

Aids vaccine

July 14th, 2009
3:20 am

AIDS and HIV is going on increasing at an alarming rate and is a big problem. Many new approaches have been adopted to create potent anti aids vaccine, with an estimated 2.7 million HIV infections constantly cropping up globally every year. Miniature versions of the HIV virus are taken and modified in laboratories to develop synthetic copies. The vaccine being tested will have the ability to effectively produce either cytotoxic T cells or antibodies that will aid in combating the infection. To know more on it, refer

mehul moradiya (gujarat/india)

July 27th, 2009
2:52 am

good day
i am mehul moradiya , & studing in the pharmacy,
i have interested into the new reserch to fite with HIV infection.
in my state i have seen many cases of nHIV infection.
i have intrest to research something new in HIV infection.
So give the info. about the new research in HIV.
pls send me message.
i have not money to resesrch new advanced .pls help me.

mehul moradiya (gujarat/india)

July 27th, 2009
2:52 am

Enter your comments here

mehul moradiya (gujarat/india)

July 27th, 2009
2:55 am

give me info.about new researchin HIv.

catherine chikahya

August 18th, 2009
5:28 am

Morning,i’m a female aged 39 angolan by birth. Currently i’m studing Hiv mananagement wityb a private university,i got interested in this illness because i ve lost a lot of family members and i ve seen how stressful it is on a person.So i ve interest on research on the illness and vacine.I m asking for more new information partening new researches. Please help .