A $25.3 million venture to develop an effective vaccine for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is set to start human clinical trials in the next five years. Funded by the European Commission, the European AIDS Vaccine Initiative or EAVI2020 will be led by HIV scientists from Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States.

Led by the Imperial College of London, the group will develop noble candidate vaccines that can be used in clinical trials. This project is part of European Union's Horizon 2020 program that aims to develop an effective vaccine to end this epidemic.

An estimated 35 million individuals around the world are currently living with HIV as reported by the World Health Organization in their 2013 data. Since the start of the epidemic, an estimated 78 million people got infected and around 39 million have died of the infection.

HIV infection could lead to potentially-fatal Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The HIV virus targets the body's immune system which protects the body against infections. When AIDS develops, the body can no longer protect itself from life-threatening infections and the person becomes immunocompromised.

There is still no available cure for HIV infection and developments of vaccines are still being conducted. The only means to prevent this infection is through safe practices which include avoiding promiscuous sexual relationships, using of condoms during intercourse and evading the use of shared needles.

"Creating an effective vaccine against HIV represents one of the greatest biological challenges of a generation," Professor Robin Shattock from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London and coordinator of EAVI2020, said in a press release.

He added that producing a vaccine is difficult for just one company or institution. Instead, by collaborating with other groups and scientists, they will be able to develop the vaccine more quickly. The group consists of leading scientists in the fields of molecular biology, immunology, virology, biotechnology and clinical practice in order to merge their expertise to develop the vaccine and proceed to human trials in the near future.

"In its dual role of policy maker and research funder, the European Commission has played an essential part for over thirty years in supporting HIV vaccine research," said Dr. Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, director of the Health Directorate at the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of EU.

The project will allow scientists from Europe and around the world to 'work together' in the aim to successfully develop promising vaccine candidates to be tested.

Meanwhile, in line with clinical trials, a website by the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit is recruiting HIV negative healthy volunteers at the Imperial College of London.

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