BETHESDA, Md--The new Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institutes of Health will expand upon efforts to find an effective AIDS vaccine and will neither replace research at universities and other institutions nor diminish their federal funding, William E. Paul, MD, told a meeting of the NIH director's advisory committee. "We see this as an add-on activity," said Dr. Paul, associate NIH director for AIDS research.
In announcing the creation of the center during a graduation address at Morgan State University, Baltimore, President Clinton also proposed "developing an AIDS vaccine within the next decade" as a national goal.
"There are no guarantees," President Clinton said. He added, however, that "if America commits to find an AIDS vaccine, and we enlist others in the cause, we will do it." The President said he would encourage other nations to join in a worldwide effort "to find a vaccine to stop one of the world's greatest killers."
At a recent meeting, NIH officials briefed about 50 potential VRC researchers about the center's goals, organization, and operations. "We look at this as something we want to do in a hurry-up manner," Dr. Paul said.
The VRC will be a joint venture of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Initially it will draw together a core of scientists with expertise in immunology, virology, and HIV vaccine research from the two institutes and others at NIH. Later, other VRC researchers from outside the NIH campus will be recruited.
NIAID director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, pledged the full support of himself and NCI director Richard D. Klausner, MD, to the VRC. "We are committed to working as a team to make this center a reality," he told the advisory committee.
For now, the new AIDS effort "will function as a center without walls," said NIH director Harold Varmus, MD. "The idea is ultimately to have a physical presence on campus, perhaps as a separate building."
The NIH Office of AIDS Research has recommended that NIH allocate $10 million for the center in fiscal year 1998, which begins on October 1. The President's budget request for AIDS vaccine research in FY 1998 is $150 million, an increase of approximately 33% since FY 1996. This significant increase will allow funding for the VRC without a decrease in outside research grants.
NIH plans a nationwide search for a scientist with specific expertise in vaccine development to serve as VRC director. Officials envision the high-visibility VRC as only a part of the coordinated AIDS vaccine effort.
Dr. Paul said that vaccine development needs "to remarry immunology and vaccinology," which he described as parting company in the 1920s and communicating very little since. He suggested that the new center might succeed at least partially in accomplishing this, as it draws people from diverse fields to focus on the problems posed by making an effective AIDS vaccine.
Creation of the VRC emerged from discussions that began last fall among key officials of the Department of Health and Human Services, NIH, the CDC, and the White House, said Dr. Varmus, who acknowledged the difficulty of the task ahead.
"There is no guarantee that we can produce a vaccine within 10 years," Dr. Varmus said, "but recent advances in immunology and virology have increased optimism that it can be done."