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Trying times in HIV research

Phillip Berman, Ph.D., '77

Since he began working on the development of a vaccine against HIV in 1984, Phillip Berman, Ph.D., has encountered many obstacles, both scientific and otherwise. There are the technical difficulties of actually engineering a vaccine, of course. But there are also the problems posed by working in a field that garners so much public attention. For the background on Berman's research, read a profile of him in the Fall 2011 issue of Dartmouth Medicine. And below, find a timeline of important events in the history of HIV vaccine research, including links to relevant articles in scientific journals and the popular press.

1981
Doctors in New York and California begin to see a number of cases of what will come to be known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)

1983-1984
Luc Montagnier, M.D., a French scientist, and Robert Gallo, M.D., an American scientist, identify HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) as the cause of AIDS.

1990
A vaccine developed by Berman and colleagues at Genentech proves to be effective in chimpanzees.

1994
As the NIH considers whether to fund a phase III trial of the Genentech vaccine, an article in the Chicago Tribune raises fears about the safety of the vaccine.

1995
After the NIH's decision not to fund a phase III trial, an extensive New York Times article investigates the history of the gp120 vaccine and its future.

1998
Berman and Donald Francis, M.D., Ph.D., publish their plans for a phase III trial of the gp120 vaccine.

2001
With the phase III trials of the gp120 vaccine underway, science writer Patricia Thomas publishes a comprehensive look at attempts by Berman, Francis, and other groups to develop an HIV vaccine and discusses some of the many obstacles they faced in their efforts. Wired magazine also covers the phase III trial, recapping the problems Berman and Francis faced along the way.

2003
At a conference in Canada, Berman announces the disappointing results of the trial.

2009
Despite the failure of the gp120 vaccine, another research group decides to combine it with a second vaccine and test the combination in a large trial in Thailand. Surprisingly, the combination proves to be 30% effective—the first such success of any HIV vaccine.


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