A Timeline of HIV Vaccine Research

The First 20 Years: 1984-2003

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding from cultured lymphocyte. Photo Courtesy of the Public Health Image Library; C. Goldsmith

The early history of HIV vaccine development was one of hope and promises. At the moment the HIV virus was discovered, scientists, politicians, and activists alike all believed that an AIDS vaccine was right around the corner. There were dissenters, but mostly there were promises. It took years before hope was largely replaced with disappointment. Use this timeline to learn about the history of the first 20 years of HIV vaccine development.


HIV-1 is discovered. AIDS is no longer a mystery illness. Scientists begin to hope they may be able to develop a vaccine to protect against the disease known as, among other things, "The Gay Plague."

During an April press conference, U.S. Health Secretary Margaret Heckler states that an HIV vaccine should be expected for testing within two years.


HIV vaccine development begins in earnest. Unfortunately, scientists are plagued by problems. It turns out that HIV is extraordinarily well adapted to resist most standard pathways of vaccine development.


The first HIV vaccine is approved for clinical trials.


An article in the journal Nature reports that all chimpanzees in a vaccine trial became infected with HIV even though they developed both antibody and T cell mediated HIV-specific immune responses after receiving the vaccine. In retrospect, this is a telling failure.

The AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) is formed to provide a network of clinical sites that can be used for HIV treatment studies.

The first clinical trial of an HIV vaccine begins in the United States. This phase I safety trial enrolls 138 healthy, uninfected volunteers and finds that the candidate vaccine has no serious side effects.


The AIDS Vaccine Evaluation Group (AVEG) begins enrolling volunteers.


Scientists announce the successful development of an SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) vaccine that protects a small group of monkeys from infection.


An article in Fortune magazine states that there is likely to be a preventative HIV vaccine before 1993.


Pasteur-Merieux Connaught's HIV vaccine program begins.

The first experimental AIDS vaccine tested in the U.S. is declared safe.

By the end of the year, 26 patents have been issued for HIV vaccine development.


The first NIH funded phase II trial of an HIV vaccine begins. It enrolls high-risk individuals and counsels them to avoid risky behaviors.

AVEG begins its first therapeutic vaccine trial - designed to slow disease progression instead of preventing initial HIV infection. It enrolls 55 HIV-infected men and women.


The first therapeutic vaccine trial to include asymptomatic HIV-infected children and HIV-infected pregnant women begins.

The first NIAID therapeutic HIV vaccine trial to enroll people with more advanced HIV disease begins.

The World Health Organization and the Government of Thailand collaborate to develop a national plan for HIV vaccine evaluation.

Massachusetts announces the first state sponsored trial of a therapeutic HIV vaccine.


The NIH sets guidelines on minority participation in clinical trials.

The first HIV vaccine clinical trial in Asia gets underway.


An advisory panel votes to send the Salk therapeutic HIV vaccine into phase III clinical trials.


Phase III trials of the Salk vaccine, now called Remune, begin enrollment in the U.S. and Thailand.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is created.

A gp160 vaccine trial concludes successfully, but fails to prevent HIV or slow the course of the disease.


President Bill Clinton sets a goal of developing a vaccine for HIV within 10 years. While addressing a group of students at Morgan State University, he declares "It is no longer a question of whether we can develop an AIDS vaccine, it is simply a question of when. And it cannot come a day too soon," and promises to establish a dedicated HIV vaccine research center at the National Institutes of Health.

More than 95 HIV vaccine trials have been completed.

More than 2,000 men and women have participated in HIV vaccine clinical trials at AIDS Vaccine Evaluation Unit trial sites in the U.S.

UNAIDS convenes a meeting to discuss the ethical issues associated with doing HIV vaccine research in developing countries.


Vaxgen begins phase III trials of their HIV vaccine candidate AIDSVAX.


The Data Safety Monitoring Board ends the Phase III Remune trials when no difference is seen between the vaccine and placebo groups.

Uganda becomes the site of the first African HIV vaccine trial.

Vaxgen starts recruiting for an AIDSVAX trial in Thailand.


The HIV Vaccine Trial Network is formed. The HVTN is a public-private partnership of vaccine researchers. It is headquartered at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and sponsored by the NIH.

UNAIDS issues an official guidance document on the ethics of HIV vaccine research in developing countries.

A preventative HIV vaccine trial begins in Kenya.

A phase I trial of a naked DNA vaccine is initiated.


NIH researchers meet with community groups to explore the participation of teenagers in HIV vaccine trials.

A May press release from the HVTN announces that they have four ongoing HIV vaccine trials, with another one planned to start later in the year.

A trial of the Prime-Boost strategy is found to show promise in monkeys.


AIDSInfo goes live.

GlaxoSmithKline announces that it will start trials of an HIV vaccine focused on NefTat and gp120.

Merck starts safety trials of a gag vaccine.


It is announced that the AIDSVAX trial in Thailand has failed.

The Epimmune HIV-1090 vaccine goes into phase I trials. The vaccine consists of 21 artificially created HIV DNA sequences corresponding to various parts of the virus that are highly conserved. Its goal is to stimulate a cytotoxic T cell response. It is the first AIDS vaccine candidate to be studied simultaneously both in the U.S. and abroad.

  • Understanding Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes

Merck and Aventis team up to do a trial of their combined gag vaccines at 18 sites.

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