By Joshua Nicholson

The most promising potential vaccine against HIV has recently failed, which is exactly what Dr. Peter Duesberg expected.

Despite overwhelming popular opinion, the UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology has been a long-time opponent of the theory that HIV is the cause of AIDS. After news of the vaccine’s failure, Duesberg reaffirmed, “This was once a theory, and now it is becoming a lie.”

The vaccine, known as MrkAd5 HIV-1, is a mixture of three modified common cold viruses that act as carriers for three synthetically-made HIV genes. The idea is that because of these cold viruses the body will create antibodies that will effectively protect against the presence of HIV. The problem lies in the fact that we produce antibodies to HIV with or without these modified cold viruses, which makes the theory behind this vaccine unfounded.

But during phase two of testing, approximately 13 months after testing began, Merck & Co. Inc. and HIV Vaccine Trials Network announced that the vaccine was ineffective.

According to Mary Elizabeth Blake, a spokesperson for Merck, “We do not have other vaccine candidates identified or approaches to identifying such candidates.” 	However, Merck intends to contribute and communicate the knowledge and expertise it has gained from over two decades of research.

Christine Maggiore, founder of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization Alive and Well, who has been HIV positive since 1992, believes that hunting for an HIV vaccine is a fruitless trial to begin with.

“Viral vaccines work by inducing the production of protective antibodies, but in the case of HIV, the presence of antibodies is regarded as the problem,” Maggiore said.

Antibodies are proteins our immune system uses to recognize, as well as neutralize, foreign bacteria and viruses. Paradoxically, a person is only considered HIV positive if he or she has these antibodies.

Maggiore continued, “There is no cogent explanation in the medical literature as to why the rules of virology differ with regard to HIV.”

Duesberg agreed.

“There is no logic,” he said. “By definition you can only get AIDS when you have these antibodies.”

What was once heralded by Dr. Mark B. Feinberg, vice president of Merck, as “the most promising strategy” for curing AIDS, now stands as another piece of data in the 23-year struggle to legitimize the relationship between HIV and AIDS.

And Maggiore could have said “I told you so.”

“[Merck testing] follows more than three dozen other failed HIV-vaccine trials,” Maggiore said.

In fact, Maggiore encourages a different kind of hunt. She challenges anyone to present her organization with proof that HIV tests are accurate, specifically by the direct isolation of HIV from fresh, uncultured fluids or tissues of positive-testing persons. She believes so strongly against this proof, that she and Alive and Well are putting $50,000 dollars on the line for whoever can meet their challenge.

If Duesberg and Maggiore are right, that HIV and AIDS are not connected, the million-dollar search for an HIV vaccine may never end — unless someone is willing to change the course of investigation.