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The Immunity Project - The FREE HIV Vaccine

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The Verge: The Immunity Project hopes to build a better HIV vaccine through crowdfunding and machine learning

As much as I like crowdfunding and can't wait to see an effective HIV-vaccine being released, I very much doubt that a bunch of social media experts and a crowdfunding campain will solve that problem thousands of dedicated scientists have been working on for a couple of decades...

From their website:
We are awaiting publication in a peer-reviewed journal.”

Another excerpt –
“This is, of course, highly speculative since no clinical testing has been done to date with our candidate vaccine.”

They are really good at PR, though!


Thanks for posting this, and I agree that crowd funding a vaccine is very much a long shot.  They need to raise about $500k for trials on mice (with humanized immune systems) and then $25 million for each of the phase I and II trials.  This would make them the largest crowd funded project by far.

I think they are more than "a bunch of social media experts", the head of the organization founded the drug company Aradigm Inc. The underlying technical work (machine learning of elite controllers to identify the target amino acids) was done at Microsoft e-Science Research, who put $1 million into the organization.  Even so - they are still very much a scientific underdog.

Here is another article on them:

I see this as a sign of the times - it could be one of the many social media attempts that didn't work or it could be the equivalent of the Kahn Academy's impact on education, or Twitter's impact on the Arab Spring....

I'm not saying this is a scam. And I'm a big fan of crowdsourcing in general. I guess what bothers me is that they are trying to sell their vaccine a little too hard. They dumb down the science way too much for my taste.
For example:

--- Quote ---SAFE: Our vaccine does not contain killed viruses, live viruses, or genetically-modified viruses.
--- End quote ---
As if the question whether a vaccine contains live/killed/GM viruses is the only determinant for safety...

Their whole - admittedly very professionally designed - campaign makes it sound as if the only obstacle of making an HIV vaccine available for everyone is just a matter of raising those $482,000. And in my opinion that's just not very honest.
As far as I see, they don't have any data yet that shows this vaccine will succeed where so many previous vaccine candidates failed. And at this moment we have several other vaccine candidates (such as GeoVax) that are much further progressed and show actual promising results.

Maybe in the end I prefer the publicly funded research where you get the results straight forward without all the marketing BS. People put a lot of hope in a vaccine and a cure which is the reason why such marketing promises in such a setting bother me a lot more than let's say some campaign collecting a few million USD to Free Willy...

Dr.  I hear all of your concerns, and agree with them, but in the end I think this is a good thing because:

1. This is a trial that would not happen otherwise.  We are talking about additional funding added to the universe of trials, not competing for the publicly funded pool of money.

2. While this project does have "marketing BS" so do the publicly funded projects - particularly as they get filtered through the media for the general population.  So we are just trading one form of marketing BS for another.

3. This project is reaching audiences that wouldn't otherwise be touched or engaged -- the downside to that is that it may be creating false hope, the upside is that people are more aware.  I have no idea (and don't think anyone does) what the real trade offs are, but I would err on the side of awareness.

4. Maybe, just maybe ---- this will add a spark to other research, in terms of learning's or a competitive push.  This may be hoping for the Butterfly Effect, which is what you don't want to see (because it fits into the false hope category) -- I kind of like this potential but am able to filter it through reality too.

In the words of the great philosopher Wayne Gretzky,
"you miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

I am leaning towards agreeing with Dr. Strangelove.

Not enough information here on how their vaccine works exactly.  Very dumbed down with the key message being "PLEASE DONATE TO US". 

If they really are on to something they should release more information about it and the money would roll in if they actually discovered anything.


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