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October 09, 2009


Thanks for a very nice (and accurately worded) post on Sudhir's research. In an e-mail exchange, you asked me why HIV vaccine research is not being funded more easily. That is true not just for the abzyme approach, but also for all others who are trying other means. In my mind, the resistance to a vaccine against HIV is due to several factors.

In the US the prospect of controlling / eradicating HIV /AIDS appeals to a certain section of the population - young, liberal and gay males, mostly. The general public, the older straight population in the US is no longer very concerned with AIDS. (It is a different story in Asia and Africa where AIDS is mostly a heterosexually transmitted disease.) The gay community in the US on the other hand is still very worried about HIV infection and also disappointed that the NIH and the CDC have pretty much climbed on the maintenance drugs (anti-retroviral cocktail) wagon which is very expensive and has major side effects. Little attention is being paid to vaccine development. I am sure drug companies are exerting some influence. Maintenance drugs are a huge cash cow but vaccine can actually eradicate a disease and therefore shut off the revenue source.

It appears that the NIH and CDC decided to shelve the funding for vaccine research after the much touted and heavily funded T-cell approach failed. I have a feeling that the recent report about the Thai trial was a put up job to save face by govt. agencies in order to justify the hundreds of millions that went into that failed attempt. The results are spurious and some astute science reporters like David Brown of the Washington Post tore apart the report when it was first published in the middle of September. Now, more details of the study have been revealed and the results are actually even more dismal than they first appeared.

I am not sure what is in store for the future of Sudhir's research. His university is fully behind him but publicly funded academic institution cannot fund such expensive studies. Although the NIH has so far funded Sudhir's research generously for years, clinical trials for vaccines are not their cup of tea. I believe strongly in the work, having watched abzyme technology develop before my eyes in the last two decades. There was skepticism about catalytic antibodies too when they were first discovered but now they are a part of mainstream immunology. And they work. I am sure that even if there is no HIV vaccine to be had in the near future, a vaccine against some other intractable condition (Alzheimer's and infection due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria are other candidates) will be produced using abzymes. If Sudhir doesn't manage to do it, someone else will.

Thanks for that explanation. It makes sense to me. Amazing how strong the nexus between profits, politics, and pharma has become, with decisions and priorities often veering into the nakedly unethical. On this topic, this remarkable talk by Beatrice Golomb might interest you. It was certainly eye-opening to me (once you get past her "passionate" presentation style :-).

Let's hope independent foundations and wealthy individuals step up to fund Sudhir's research. Has CIF approached the Gates Foundation yet?

Hi Namit,

Posting the link to another video. This one was designed by Sudhir and explains the science a little better.

Yep, that's definitely better. Thanks.

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