by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
British scientists funded by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) announced May 30 that they are beginning new research into an HIV vaccine. They said they are now recruiting 64 healthy adult volunteers for the trial, which is expected to take up to two years.
The work will be split equally among three cities: London, the Rwandan capital of Kigali, and Nairobi, Kenya.
IAVI is no novice in HIV vaccine studies. Their laboratories at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital handle almost 100,000 blood samples a year and have supported more than 20 other vaccine trials.
NOT 'IF' BUT 'WHEN'
The principal investigator, Dr. Jill Gilmour, who has worked at the Chelsea and Westminster lab since its founding in 2001, says she is optimistic that HIV can eventually be combated with a vaccine.
'I believe it's not if, it's when we will have an effective HIV vaccine. There is now strong scientific data to support that position,' Gilmour told BBC News.
'We will get there but vaccine development takes time. It's not for the fainthearted. Bear in mind that with polio, it was 45 years from discovering the virus to getting an effective vaccine.
'HIV is a formidable beast with sneaky tricks. It changes every time it divides, so it's highly variable. And it can integrate into your own cells, so your immune system can't see it.'
In the IAVI trial, volunteers who are HIV-negative and not at risk of contracting the virus will receive a combination of two vaccines.
One of them is derived from a weakened version of Sendai, a flu-like virus that infects rodents. It will be administered through nasal drops. This is because in the early stages of infection, both HIV and Sendai affect the mucosal tissues, which are found in the nose and in the genital area.
This stage of the trial is identified as 'Phase I,' meaning that the aim is to determine whether the vaccine is safe, and that it induces an immune response.
'Delivering the vaccine into the nose has public health benefits, because we're not using needles,' Gilmour said.
'If we see strong immune responses, we go into the larger second phase of testing whether the vaccine is effective in reducing transmission or lowering the load of the virus.
'The Sendai product is modified from a virus which affects rodents, including hamsters. From our perspective, it's a bonus that this virus has lived in the human environment without causing us harm.'
A MULTIYEAR PROJECT
Jason Warriner, clinical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, a nonprofit AIDS research foundation based in London, cautioned that the research would take years to complete.
'We welcome investment in the search for a vaccine against HIV,' Warriner said.
'This research is in its very earliest stages. Clinical trials take several years to complete and, even if the vaccine passes this first stage of tests, more research will be needed over the course of many years. Although an HIV vaccine has so far remained stubbornly out of reach, we now understand how to prevent transmission better than ever before.
'A combination of widespread condom use, regular testing for HIV, and getting those with the virus onto the right treatment, could drastically reduce HIV within a generation,' asserted Warriner.
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