Big and little media, including this blogger, welcomed recent news from Thailand that trials of an AIDS vaccine were very promising. Today, word in the scientific community is, sadly, that this drug is not nearly as promising as the U.S. Army led the public to believe, and that the US and Thai officials created false expectations at their press conference. Army spokespeople are denying they rushed to announce but scientists are fuming.
When the U.S. Army and its collaborators in Thailand announced at press conferences on 24 September that a large clinical trial of an AIDS vaccine had lowered the rate of new HIV infections by about one-third, researchers were surprised and encouraged. Although it was only a modest reduction, it was the first positive result from any AIDS vaccine trial.
Now some researchers who have seen more of the data in confidential briefings are complaining that a fuller analysis undermines even cautious claims of success, and they are raising questions about the way the results were announced.
"The press conference was not a scholarly, rigorously honest presentation," said one leading HIV/AIDS investigator, who like others asked that his name not be used. "It doesn't meet the standards that have been set for other trials, and it doesn't fully present the borderline results. It's wrong." Two biostatisticians who specialize in HIV prevention trials and have not seen the data, said that the results from all participants are the more important data, but they were puzzled that the press conference did not include the analysis that excluded those who didn't follow the protocols. "I think if people saw [the two analyses] diverging in a vaccine study, they'd have a lot of questions," says David Glidden, a biostatician at the University of California, San Francisco.