In AIDS Vaccine Search, Decades of Disappointment Mean Even Small Gains are Significant

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With the 2009 AIDS Vaccine Conference underway in Paris, folks are finally getting a peak at the all-important details of the widely-publicized Thai vaccine trial and its much analyzed, but little understood, results.

Since the study results were first announced amid much hoopla three weeks ago, there have been more questions than answers about the significance of this study. One of the most important questions, as we wrote in this post at the time, centered on the fact that the protective effect for the vaccine, a prime-boost combination of two drugs, was 31.2 percent, a minimum threshold epidemic modelers would consider as being able to slow the HIV epidemic. So the broader public health benefit was murky at best.

Then, doubts about the trial’s findings grew when ScienceInsider reported (in this post) that some researchers privately briefed on a fuller set of data said a second analysis showed the protective effect was even lower and that undermined “even cautious claims of success.”

So now that all the data have been made public and available for scrutiny by those in Paris and elsewhere, what’s the consensus? Well, about the same as it was three weeks ago: these are good but not great results that require more examination and research.

Bruce Walker, of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, may have put it best when he told ScienceInsider yesterday: “If this were any other vaccine you’d say these are incredibly disappointing results. [But] here you see a signal that looks to me like it’s marginal—and that’s exciting.”

Click here to read that full ScienceInsider post, which lays out what questions lie ahead for researchers as they try make sense of these perplexing findings.

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