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HIV vaccine trial under fire

The sponsors of the largest ever HIV vaccine trial yesterday hailed a "historic" moment as they formally announced the trial's results at an international AIDS vaccine meeting in Paris. The results received rapturous applause from an audience of more than 1,000 HIV researchers.

But some scientists are much more sceptical of the findings, arguing that the response of the HIV research community, long deprived of any good news from vaccine trials, is based more on hope than on rigorous science.

The US$119-million phase III trial, sponsored by the health ministry of Thailand and the US Army, started in Thailand in 2003. It enrolled 16,402 people, who were split evenly into a control group and a vaccine group. People in the vaccine group were given four shots of ALVAC-HIV, an attenuated canarypox virus carrying HIV genes, and two shots of AIDSVAX, a recombinant form of the gp120 HIV surface protein.

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