Gates Foundation funding will go toward R&D of a vaccine to prevent the transfer of HIV through breast feeding.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation received a five-year, $9.7-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and test candidate vaccines to prevent HIV infection in children. This program will be the first of its kind to focus on basic research and clinical trials specific to breast-feeding infants, according to the Glaser AIDS foundation.

“Children have been virtually absent from HIV vaccine research despite having the most to gain from such a discovery,” points out Pamela W. Barnes, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. “Almost 14 percent of all new HIV infections are in babies who acquire the infection from their mothers, most of whom quickly develop AIDS without treatment. We hope to make discoveries that bring us one step closer to the first generation of HIV-free and HIV-protected individuals.”

The grant will fund up to eight basic and/or preclinical research studies on breast milk transmission of HIV and pediatric immunity. The program also will fund up to three Phase I trials on HIV vaccines candidates for the pediatric population.
To date there have only been two vaccine trials aimed at blocking transmission of the virus from mother-to-child, either during childbirth or through breast feeding, according to the Glaser AIDS foundation. Researchers believe that vaccine dosed shortly after birth would not only protect the child from HIV during the breast-feeding period but could offer long-term or even life-long immunity from the virus.

“Vaccinating children has been the key to tackling the world’s deadliest epidemics, and HIV could be the next chapter in that story,” Barnes adds. “It is absolutely vital that we start to include children in HIV vaccine research, or we may miss important discoveries that only pediatric research could reveal. We don’t want to be celebrating the discovery of an HIV vaccine and then stop and realize it’s ineffective or unsafe for children. We need research aimed both at children and adults, and the Gates Foundation is helping make that possible.”

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