The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) announced Wednesday that it has received a US$25 million grant, the largest charitable gift in the history of the AIDS pandemic, from the William H. Gates Foundation. IAVI will more than double its AIDS vaccine development efforts as a result.
“Bill and Melinda Gates’ historic act of generosity will allow us to significantly accelerate the scientific effort,” Seth Berkley, M.D., IAVI’s president, said. “With 16,000 new HIV infections a day, 95% of them in developing countries where there is little access to treatment, we have no time to spare.”
Wayne Koff, Ph.D., IAVI’s vice president for research and development, said the five-year grant from the Gates Foundation will allow IAVI to begin work on up to three new vaccine candidates — one this year, one in 2000, and a third, depending on cost and other variables, in 2001. “We are canvassing the globe for the best scientific opportunities,” Koff said. IAVI is already funding the development of two promising vaccine approaches.
Berkley also announced that the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has made a grant of $2 million to IAVI, bringing the Sloan Foundation’s commitment to AIDS vaccines to $5 million. “Thanks to these and other far-sighted donors, we have now raised nearly $50 million, a meaningful down payment on the $350 to $500 million budget outlined in our Scientific Blueprint for AIDS Vaccine Development,” Berkley added. The Scientific Blueprint lays out a detailed scientific strategy to develop an AIDS vaccine as quickly as possible.
Gates’ Goal: “A World Without AIDS”
“Melinda and I want our children – and all children – to grow up in a world without AIDS,” said Bill Gates, the founder of the William H. Gates Foundation and the founder and chairman of Microsoft Corp. “Vaccines are one of the most far-reaching and effective technologies of our time. A widely distributed vaccine can help make the goal of a world without AIDS a reality. Shortening the time it will take to find a vaccine can save millions of lives. We’re proud to be supporting the heroic work of IAVI in this gift, ” he added.
The William H. Gates Foundation made an initial $1.5 million commitment to IAVI at the World AIDS Conference in Geneva last June. “We applaud IAVI’s commitment to ending AIDS for all time,” said William H. Gates Sr., who oversees Foundation activities for his son. “We’re persuaded that the strategy of moving multiple vaccine candidates forward simultaneously will yield the fastest results.”
Gates Sr. particularly praised IAVI’s goal of making AIDS vaccines accessible in developing countries. “This is very much in keeping with the philosophy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Children’s Vaccine Program, which seeks to immunize children in developing countries against vaccine-preventable diseases,” he said. “It would be a hollow victory to save millions of children’s lives, only to have them reach maturity and succumb to AIDS.”
World Bank and UNAIDS Applaud Grants
James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, said: “I am delighted that the Gates Foundation has stepped in so generously to support IAVI’s work to speed up development of an AIDS vaccine. We see an AIDS vaccine – difficult as it will be to develop, test and deploy – as one vital component to a much stronger global effort that is urgently needed to combat the pandemic. The World Bank has provided seed grants of several million dollars to assist IAVI’s start-up, so we are especially pleased to see this strong private contribution by the Gates Foundation further build up IAVI’s capacity.”
Peter Piot, Ph.D.,the director UNAIDS, applauded the Gates and Sloan grants. He emphasized, however, that current prevention technologies remain the key to controlling the epidemic until an effective vaccine is developed and widely distributed. “In the short term, we must do what we know works; in the long-term, a vaccine is the best answer to this pandemic,” Piot said. In 1998, IAVI was named a collaborating centre of UNAIDS.
Sloan’s Gomory: IAVI Can Make A Critical Difference
Ralph E. Gomory, president of the Sloan Foundation, called on governments, multilateral organizations, foundations, and individuals to join in funding IAVI’s work. “There is a pressing need for a practical and focused effort like IAVI’s,” he said. “Support for IAVI can make a critical difference to a massive worldwide problem that everybody recognizes but few know how to attack in a practical way.”
IAVI is moving quickly to deploy its new resources. “We are convening a scientific think tank in Europe next month to identify promising vaccine approaches,” said Jaap Goudsmit, M.D., Ph.D., chair of IAVI’s Scientific Advisory Committee and chair of the Department of Human Retrovirology at the University of Amsterdam. IAVI held a similar brainstorming session in New York last month.
Using “Social Venture Capital” to Ensure Access
IAVI’s Vaccine Development Partnerships link scientists in industrialized and developing countries with private industry to develop and test vaccine candidates as quickly as possible. It is IAVI’s belief that developing country scientists must be full partners in any AIDS vaccine development efforts for their countries. IAVI launched its first two partnerships – linking the U.K and Kenya, and the U.S. and South Africa – by investing $9.1 million in them in November, 1998.
In creating its Vaccine Development Partnerships, IAVI has acted as a “social venture capitalist,” using its financing to secure intellectual property agreements to ensure that the IAVI-funded vaccines are available in developing countries at a reasonable price. “This is a new paradigm for vaccine development,” Berkley said. “Priority vaccines should be available simultaneously in the North and the South. Developing countries should not be forced to wait 10 or 15 years for an AIDS vaccine to trickle down to them.”
“In the face of 16,000 new infections a day, the vast majority of them poor people in developing countries, this is a human crisis and a development crisis that the global community must overcome – with better prevention, with treatments that are within the reach of poor countries’ health systems, and ultimately with an effective vaccine,” the World Bank’s Wolfensohn added.
“I am personally committed to expanding the World Bank’s already substantial AIDS program, working alongside our partners WHO and all the members of the UNAIDS alliance – and that includes exploring what we can do to encourage an AIDS vaccine,” Wolfensohn continued. “IAVI’s energy and its support for vaccine work in developing as well as industrial countries make it a valued member of this broad partnership.”
The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative is an international nonprofit scientific organization founded in 1996 whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world. IAVI’s work focuses on three areas: accelerating scientific progress, mobilizing political support through advocacy and education, and encouraging industrial involvement in AIDS vaccine development. IAVI also works with large developing countries to assist them in creating national AIDS vaccine programs.
In addition to the Gates and Sloan Foundation, IAVI receives support from the Rockefeller, Starr and Until There’s A Cure Foundations; the World Bank, UNAIDS, Crusaid, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Belotsky Foundation, the UK’s National AIDS Trust, and Foundation Marcel Merieux. IAVI is also funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development, Levi Strauss, Angel Music Ltd., Glaxo Wellcome and generous individuals and foundations around the world. Additional information is located at the website.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit institution, was established in 1934 by Alfred Prichard Sloan, Jr., then the President and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors Corp. Total assets of the Sloan Foundation have a market value of over $1 billion. Current programs and interests of the Sloan Foundation include: science and technology; standard of living and economic performance; education and careers in science and technology; and selected national issues and civic programs. Additional information is located at the website.