Crowd funded HIV vaccine–more junk science!

Credit: FDA
Credit: FDA

Since humans were first able to communicate with one another, there probably was someone there trying to sell  a great new medical advancement. The Stone Age Grok probably would sell you an herbal cure for your broken leg that would cost two goats and a flagon of Stone Age mead. Not being a psychiatrist, and not playing one on the internet, I can only speculate that humans are always searching for the easy cure, the easy treatment, and there are other humans ready to fulfill that market need with magical beliefs. 

And if you think that things have changed since Grok, the Stone Age Big Herbal salesmen, was around, you’d be wrong. Instead of goats, it’s money. And instead of cures for broken legs, it’s AIDS vaccines.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about a crowdfunded company, Immunity Project, that claims it had developed a paradigm-shifting new HIV/AIDS vaccine, that they will sell for free. To put it lightly, I was highly skeptical, not only of the the science behind this magical vaccine, but also of their business strategy, which would require them to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to sell the vaccine at $0. The principals of the company very politely hit back at me on Twitter and on the comments section of the original article, asking me and others to read their white paper (pdf), which appears to be nothing more than an advertising piece about their company and their ideas.

Immunity Project is relying upon crowd funding (or sometimes called crowd sourcing) to raise startup (or angel) money to get their company going. This money is raised online from a broad community of “investors” who contribute usually smaller amounts of money than would be a big time investor (corporate or private capital). Their goal is to raise enough money to get the concept into clinical trials and eventually to sell it for free. Continue reading “Crowd funded HIV vaccine–more junk science!”

Crowd funded HIV vaccine–junk science?

Finding a vaccine for HIV.
Finding a vaccine for HIV.

I pay attention to vaccines, not just the ones on the market, but also the future technologies that will allow us to prevent other types of diseases. This not only includes preventing common communicable diseases, but also using vaccines to boost the immune system so that the immune system can destroy and prevent diseases like cancer.

One of the most intense areas of vaccine research is in HIV/AIDS, where designing and testing effective vaccines has proven extraordinarily elusive. There are a number of factors that have inhibited the development of an HIV vaccine when compared to more “traditional” ones:

  • Traditional vaccines available today mimic the natural immune process against reinfection, which is generally seen in individuals who have recovered from infection. Unfortunately, there are almost no recovered AIDS patients to give us a model for preventing reinfection.
  • Because HIV infection may remain latent for long periods before causing AIDS, a vaccine induced immunity probably cannot destroy the HIV virus until the AIDS disease itself shows up, at which point the vaccine-induced immune process may be ineffective.
  • Most effective vaccines are whole-killed or live-attenuated organisms; killed HIV-1 does not retain antigenicity for the adaptive immune system to “remember.” On the other hand, a live virus might provide proper antigenicity, but live HIV vaccines may raise significant safety issues.
  • Most vaccines protect against infections that are infrequently encountered, which means the immune system can be fairly efficient in dealing with the pathogen. Unfortunately, individuals at high risk to HIV may encounter the virus frequently, even daily, which may overwhelm any immune response.
  • Most vaccines protect against infections through mucosal surfaces of the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract; the great majority of HIV infection is through the genital tract. However, this is might be relatively easy to overcome. Continue reading “Crowd funded HIV vaccine–junk science?”