A leading academic predicts the next six years will determine whether developing an effective HIV vaccine is within the grasp of scientists.

Professor Jonathan Weber, of Imperial College London, has been working towards the goal since 1985.

This week he told doctors and HIV clinicians in Liverpool: “By the end of this decade I believe we will have reached a defining moment in the history of HIV vaccination research.”

ITV News reports Professor Weber said: “We will be able to say with confidence if a generation of work has delivered an effective HIV vaccine candidate.

“If not we will know that our current technology is not enough. We will require an as-yet unmade scientific breakthrough.

“We have seen success, albeit with rates of protection which are too low. Perhaps the HIV vaccine research community can learn from our highly successful Olympic athletes. Marginal gains can really add up to success.

“A series of minor improvements in the vaccines we currently have will optimise their potency.”

In the past few years scientists have made progress in coming up with new ways to isolate the virus, however experts warn any type of cure for HIV is still likely to be a long way off.

A study published in October last year highlighted the challenge of eradicating inactive HIV viruses, which hide in a patient’s body.

Figures released in November last year by Public Health England showed HIV transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM) at an all-time high.