BETHESDA, Md--Nobel laureate David Baltimore, PhD, will lead a National Institutes of Health effort to revive the flagging search for an effective HIV vaccine. NIH Director Harold Varmus, MD, named Dr. Baltimore to head a committee that will search for new ideas and new approaches to a research endeavor that has failed to yield a vaccine after a decade of intense work.
Dr. Baltimore will work within NIH and among the AIDS community to ferret out innovative ideas. "It is going to be a trans-NIH effort," said Donald M. Ralbovsky, a communications officer in Dr. Varmus' office. "He will have access to and be working with all the institute directors who have an interest in HIV vaccine research, as well as the director of the Office of AIDS Research, Dr. William Paul, and Dr. Varmus."
The appointment of Dr. Baltimore, a microbiologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed two recent reports critical of the slow progress made in the search for a clinically useful HIV vaccine.
The Levine Report, prepared by more than 100 scientists and others involved in dealing with the AIDS epidemic, urged the recruitment of new scientists--especially immunologists--to the vaccine effort and the appointment of a distinguished scientist from outside the government to correct what the committee saw as a lack direction and oversight.
That report, which Dr. Baltimore helped prepare, also urged formation of a new program that would meld related research at several NIH institutes into a new, more creative AIDS vaccine search.
A second report, by the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, complained that companies have essentially given up on AIDS vaccine development because of the high costs, unsolved scientific questions, and potential for legal liability.
Dr. Baltimore plans first to review the NIH vaccine program to make sure his committee fully understands the accomplishments of vaccine scientists and the research now in progress. Then the committee will hold regional meetings in its search for innovative ideas that might spur development of an AIDS vaccine.
Dr. Baltimore also plans to explore with the pharmaceutical industry which specific basic research the government could support that would help companies in perfecting an HIV vaccine.