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Two AIDS Vaccine Trials Hold Hope Against Epidemic

Twenty-five years into the AIDS epidemic, there's still no vaccine. Some hope is on the horizon but it could take at least 10 more years for any vaccine to enter the market. //

At a conference in Toronto that began Sunday, the world's HIV/AIDS groups plan to take stock of the discouraging race between the global medical community and the HIV virus that has killed millions worldwide.

Drug therapy has become a little more accessible, cheaper and easier to take for about 1.1 million people. However, it is still out of reach for most of the world's 40 million people infected with HIV/AIDS.

Stepping into the lurch with increasing promise is the field of topical microbicide gels that could kill the HIV virus in the vagina and protect women from infection.

The wealthy Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates foundations poured start up money into the Maryland-based International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) several years ago to pursue the idea.

"Now attention is focused on the fact that the epicentre of the epidemic is moving toward poor, married women," IPM spokeswoman Pam Norick said.

Vaccine development has been slow for good reason, according to Larry Corey, principal investigator of HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) based in Washington.

"The virus is a formidable foe with respect to its ability to change its outer coat, and we still have not learned how to make vaccines that make antibodies," Corey said in Seattle.

The most promising vaccine in three years targets the body's T-cells, and is being developed by Merck pharmaceuticals, according to Wayne Koff, an official at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), which coordinates a network of global vaccine research projects.

Merck's vaccine, now in the last phase of testing on 3,000 volunteers in South America and the Caribbean, is an improvement over the disappointing Vaxgen that came to a dead en
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