24 September 2009

HIV vaccine: modest, but good luck

For the first time, the effectiveness of an HIV vaccine has been experimentally provenDmitry Tselikov, Compulenta 

American and Thai researchers announced this today at a special press conference in Bangkok. This is a rather unexpected result. Recent failures have led many scientists to believe that such a vaccine will never appear.

Vaccination reduces the risk of HIV infection by more than 31%. This is the result of the largest-ever tests in Thailand, in which over 16 thousand volunteers took part.

Despite a very modest success, this is the first proof that the development of a safe and effective vaccine is possible. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: "We have cautious optimism about the improvement of the result."

Even if the positive effect of the vaccine turns out to be insignificant, millions of lives will be saved. According to estimates of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, 7,500 people are infected every day in the world. In 2007, two million people on the planet died of AIDS.

"This is a historic milestone," said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, an international group that worked on the vaccine. "It will take time and resources to fully analyze the data obtained, but few doubt that this experiment will activate and reorient researchers working on vaccines." The scientist stressed that the vaccine was tested on HIV strains common in Thailand. Whether the drug will be effective in the case of other strains, there is no clarity yet.

In fact, two vaccines were tested at once: one attacked HIV, the second enhanced the effect of the drug. The first is ALVAC, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, part of the French pharmaceutical concern Sanofi-Aventis. The second is AIDSVAX, originally developed by VaxGen Corporation and now owned by Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases, a non–profit organization founded by former VaxGen employees.

ALVAC includes avian poxvirus (canarypox), genetically modified to carry three HIV genes. AIDSVAX contains a genetically modified version of a protein found on the surface of HIV. Vaccines are not made from a virus – living or dead – and cannot cause AIDS.

The AIDSVAX vaccine has been tested since 2003. The first results were unsuccessful.

Details of the experiment will be made public at the Paris conference in October.

Prepared by the Associated Press: A world first: Vaccine helps prevent HIV infection.

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