If you pay taxes in the US (and many other countries), you are helping fund HIV/AIDS research, including the development of HIV vaccines. This includes my research project, so, YAY! Thank you!
What happens, is, we pay taxes. Part of that cash goes to various government agencies to dole out to researchers. When researchers think they have a cool idea, they write up their cool idea, explain it, add preliminary data and previous publications showing they know what they are doing. Then other scientists read those proposals and go ‘Hey, that looks like a good idea! I think they can pull it off!’ and then they get a set amount of cash to fund exactly what they outlined in their proposal. Or, the scientists dont like the idea or dont have the money to fund anything else, and the person with the idea has to try again.
You can also go through a similar process from non-governmental agencies, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to get research money.
Is this process perfect? Absolutely not. Nowhere near perfect. I dont know anyone who would argue that.
So some labs are looking into crowdsourcing, Kickstarter and such, to get specific projects funded, or to get specific pieces of equipment and such. Some labs are also working out ways of accepting donations. People are getting creative, and thats the state of science research these days: Cash is limiting, not the ideas.
I dont judge a lab that gets ‘creative’ to get cash at all.
But then there is this:
http://www.immunityproject.org/ (dont miss the video)
I *really* disagree with this groups approach.
1– The PI, Reid Rubsamen, is an MD with no relevant publications in HIV or any kind of vaccine research. Unless he is publishing under another name, that is the only paper PubMed could find at all.
2– This company, ‘The Immunity Project’, has no history whatsoever. It was created September last year. Going from zero to ‘ENDING HIV AND AIDS’. I admire their enthusiasm, but I would not be giving them over $50 million dollars for enthusiasm.
3– I am an HIV vaccine researcher, and I only have a vague guess as to what they are proposing. Im guessing (GUESSING) they want to generate a CTL response. Instead of producing the proteins endogenously and having those proteins induce a CTL response, they appear to want to deliver the peptides. I have a number of major issues with this, even as a casual CTL researcher (side project I did for an HLA lab), I can only imagine the major players in the CTL side of HIV World have even more concerns. I can delve into these if readers want to know.
4– Because there is no clear research proposal available, I wonder if science is ‘not the point’. Average Joes and Janes are potential donors, not scientists. Scientists have apparently already evaluated this research and said ‘No’, so now this group is
appealing to the emotions of people who dont understand the science crowdsourcing. Science is there for a ‘GEE WIZ MAGIC!’ factor (again, watch the video). HIV controllers are not magic. Some people infected with HIV-1 are able to control infection better than others (aka not progress to AIDS as fast as others). This is due to a multitude of reasons, but one of the strongest correlates to ‘controller’ vs ‘non-controller’ is what your genetics looks like. But just because you have a ‘protective’ allele it does not mean you arent going to progress to AIDS. Its dumb luck, not magic. And you cant alter someones HLA allele with peptides. God please dont get me started on HIV and HLA.
6– Mixed messages. What the heck is going on with Immunity Project? What have they done? What are they going to do with the cash? From the looks of their website, they want to do a phase I clinical trial.
We’re raising $25 million to begin Phase l FDA human trials.
WHEN DO YOU HOPE TO BEGIN A STUDY IN HUMANS?
Our HIV vaccine is now ready for a phase 1 human trials in the US and South Africa. As soon as we raise adequate funding, we can begin the study.
HOW MUCH IS NEEDED?
We need to raise $25 million to fund the phase I human trial. Once phase 1 is funded and the FDA deems us safe, we will need to raise another $20 million for the phase II trials in order to test the efficacy in sub-Saharan Africa (Durban).
As of now, the company is seeking to raise $482,000, Mr. Cinnamon said, which is the expected cost of completing animal trials that will see mice infused with human blood. The study is a necessary milestone in reaching human trials, which the company hopes to do by the end of this year.
But December of last year, there was this:
Here at Startup Socials, we are thrilled to announce a partnership with the Immunity Project. This is an incredible not-for-profit organization that has developed a HIV vaccine prototype through a machine learning algorithm. The Immunity Project HIV vaccine prototype has yielded positive results in animals and is now ready for Phase I Human Trials.
What is going on?
7– One word: Accountability. If I buy anything, I have to get a green-light from a few people. We have to tell my Uni what we are spending money on (and we cant spend money on anything. we can buy a $75,000 piece of equipment but we cant buy a $75,000 car). We and the Uni have to tell the government what we are spending money on. And I dont have over $50 million dollars.
Who will be holding the Immunity Project accountable? I didnt see that word on their webpage.
8– Major, MAJOR red flags. There is nothing about this project that indicates any kind of ethos in any kind of vaccine design. I would not be giving these folks cash unless they piggy-backed on with an established HIV lab of some kind, and even then, they have *got* to get some publications under their belt.
But no, no thats not why they arent getting money the usual ways. This is why:
… Furthermore, private equity investors don’t like HIV vaccine plays because the real money in HIV is in developing new lifelong therapies that people living with HIV will have to take for the rest of their lives.
Big science controls most of the rest of the funding that is available, and our breakthrough, IT-based approach to HIV vaccine development is still too early to resonate through the old boys funding network…
This is where I stopped. Big Pharma, Big Science, Old Boys Network– These claims are the last refuge of scoundrels, not scientists.
No history, no science, bad attitude.
Will I be backing Immunity Project with funds or support?