The global push to develop an Aids vaccine was boosted today by the first alliance between a major drug-maker and the non-profit sector to tackle the disease.
Pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline has signed a deal with the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) to research and develop a vaccine.
Development will concentrate on a chimpanzee virus which has been engineered so that it is non-infectious but can spark the immune system of humans into responding against HIV, the virus that causes Aids.
The news comes a month before the leaders of the G8 countries meet in Gleneagles, Perth and Kinross. The UK has the presidency of the G8 nations and has put Africa alongside climate change as the key issues that must be tackled.
According to the United Nations, Aids is becoming endemic in sub-Saharan Africa with more than 60% of all people living with HIV but just 10% of the world’s population.
Today’s deal will see IAVI providing expertise and funding for the research into the Aids vaccine and it will also form a joint research and development team with Glaxo.
Glaxo has pledged to make any successful vaccine available at affordable prices to developing countries where more than 95% of all new HIV infections are reported.
Public-private partnerships are aimed at developing treatments for diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria that mainly strike poorer countries.
They secure the involvement of major drugs firms which would otherwise feel there is little hope of an attractive return on investment to press ahead on their own.
Jean Stephenne, head of the vaccines arm of Glaxo, said the company was pursuing “three scientific avenues to research an effective Aids vaccine”.
He said: “This partnership will help us to accelerate the evaluation of these technologies and can be extended in future.”
Because the vaccine candidates have yet to feature in Phase I clinical trials, it will be many years before a final version is ready to be marketed.
Drugs have to pass three phases of clinical trials before an application can be submitted to regulators for approval.
Hilary Benn, UK Secretary of State for International Development, said: “This agreement demonstrates the kind of collaboration between the public and private sectors that is critical for enhancing the research and development of new vaccines.”