Crowdfunding Playing A Role In Effort To Develop HIV Vaccine

immunity-projectEvery day, 4,000 people die from AIDS. 35 million people around the world are currently living with HIV. It’s one of the great tragedies of our time. Now a group of scientists have gathered under the Immunity Project in hopes of eradicating the disease by developing a vaccine that they hope can be distributed globally – easily and for free.

Out of every 300 people infected with HIV, one person is what is called a “controller.” These individuals carry HIV, but their immune system prevents the carrier from ever contracting AIDS. The project hopes to replicate this natural immunity in non-controllers. If successful, a vaccine such as this could have a serious effect on rates of AIDS infection.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 10.12.52 AMThe project’s associated crowdfunding campaign successfully met a $462,000 goal, thanks in part to four $50,000 donors who achieved “Founding Donor” status with their large contributions. The funds are said to be earmarked for a final experiment that will help the Immunity Project get to Phase I clinical trials. Immunity Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

According to the project timeline, Immunity Project hopes to deliver their first vaccination in June of 2015.


Controversy surrounding the campaign was captured in a recent piece in Nature. The article raises a question of compatibility between real-world medical research, startup culture and crowdfunding as a means of raising money…

But missing from Rubsamen’s promotional campaign are any HIV researchers or data supporting the effort’s scientific strategy. The unorthodox approach raises the question of whether crowd-funding in Silicon Valley, which tends to be more impressed with technology and marketing than peer-reviewed data, is compatible with medical research — an increasingly pertinent issue as scientists appeal to the public to fund more projects aimed at developing therapies.

Louis Picker of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland says the project is “preying on people who are desperate for a vaccine.”

Regardless of any controversy, the project is funded and moving full steam ahead. The outcome of this campaign will be one to watch as we head into 2015.

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