New data analysis revives AIDS trial controversy

Renewed controversy is swirling around the big AIDS vaccine trial in Thailand after researchers published the full analysis of data in the New England Journal of Medicine. A secondary analysis of the trial indicates that the vaccine reduced infections by 26 percent, significantly less than the 31 percent reduction seen in the primary analysis. And while scientists say the results indicate that the vaccine may have been somewhat effective, the data also suggests that the response could be attributed to mere chance.

"The results are weak enough that we need to be very careful about assigning too much optimism to them," said UCLA's Dr. Otto Yang. "It seems not so likely that the vaccine really did what it was intended to do."

Trial researchers and federal science groups have been taking flak for their decision to initially focus on the 31 percent reduction in infections. While the data didn't prove the vaccine would work as hoped in preventing AIDS, it did support researchers' contention that they may have been on the right track--the first such sign they've seen in decades of work. The secondary analysis, which was leaked to the Wall Street Journal, severely undercut that case and brought trial data analysis into the public spotlight.   

Dr. Raphael Dolin of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, though, insisted that the trial results were "of potentially great importance to the field of HIV research."  The data could offer key insights into the immune responses necessary to gain protection against the deadly virus.

- here's the article from the Los Angeles Times
- check out the analysis from the Wall Street Journal