The 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections concluded last week in Boston with mixed news on the treatment of HIV/AIDS and the development of a vaccine.

Former president Bill Clinton spoke at the conference, which is considered the nation’s premier gathering of HIV/AIDS specialists. The Boston Globe reported that Clinton praised the Bush administration’s plan to spend $15 billion fighting AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, but urged specialists to ensure that Congress follows through with the strategy.

The major news of the conference was the announcement of a bumper crop of new HIV medicines now being developed. At least 10 new drugs are currently in development or in human trials, drugs which researchers claimed can attack HIV from eight different points.

Of particular interest were early trials of the drug TNX-355 which saw HIV levels in human participants drop by up to 97 per cent. New drugs also promised to be easier to administer, with TNX-355 taken in a single IV dose once every two to three weeks. Researchers also announced encouraging results of T-1249, which is intended for use when new drug T-20 fails.

With positive news in HIV treatment, however, came the announcement that the number of HIV diagnoses in the US increased for the first time since 1993. Although the rise amounted to only one percent, Associated Press reported one US study that documented a 14 percent rise in HIV diagnoses between men who had sex with men.

Dr Ronald O. Valdiserri of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Boston Globe, It’s very important to keep reminding the American public that HIV/AIDS is still a serious problem in our own country.

The news on vaccine trials was mostly encouraging, with some exceptions.

Researchers from Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reported that three monkeys who had received an experimental AIDS vaccine had died. Associated Press noted a number of other vaccines that were at a more advanced and encouraging stage of trials, including vaccines from Merck and VaxGen’s AIDSVax.

In post-conference news, French scientists announced earlier this week that a therapeutic vaccine trial had stimulated a positive immunological reaction against HIV for the first time in the clinical history of AIDS.

The vaccine Alvac was injected into 48 HIV-positive patients who were also receiving combination therapy. The patients later ceased combination therapy, with more than 60 percent developing defence against HIV.

Coordinator of the project Christine Katlama told Inter-Agency Press, We could wake up the patients’ immune system and block reproduction of the virus.

Researchers stressed that the vaccine did not constitute a cure for HIV/AIDS, but the results were extremely encouraging.

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