Vaccine against HIV could be close

Researchers say that a licensed vaccine against HIV could be close, particularly after successes with a 2009 Thailand clinical trial that was the first to show the prevention of HIV infection in humans.

The HIV vaccine has faced a rocky road after a bold and failed prediction that a vaccine would be ready just two years after a 1984 press conference. In addition, a 2007 trial of a Merck vaccine seemed to make people more vulnerable to infection instead of less. Recent discoveries, however, have found successes in creating HIV-fighting antibodies, Reuters reports.

"We know the face of the enemy," Barton Haynes, a recent director of the Center for HIV AIDS Vaccine Immunology, said, according to Reuters. "The virus is far more crafty than we ever thought."

While AIDS-controlling drugs have ensured that the disease is no longer a death sentence and new infections have fallen by 21 percent since 1997, as many as 34 million people are infected by the disease, with 2.7 million new infections in 2010 alone. The creation of a successful vaccine could make major headway in reducing incidence of the disease.

In 2009, the RV144 clinical trial in Thailand combined two vaccines that were unsuccessful in individual trials. The trial demonstrated a drop in HIV infections by 31.2 percent. The result was not enough to be considered effective, but the trial provided an important vaccine target in the virus's outer coat. The preparations for a follow-up trial with beefed-up versions of the vaccine are underway.

In addition, a new generation of vaccines is being tested that trains immune system T-cells to recognize and kill HIV-infected cells.

"It's really a new day when we start to think about where we are with AIDS vaccines," Gary Nabel, a representative of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, according to Reuters.