Scientists in Germany are for the first time preparing to conduct human trials on a new vaccine designed to prevent HIV infection as well as slow the spread of AIDS in the developing world.
Researchers in Hamburg are gearing up for clinical trials on a HIV vaccine.
In a major boost to the global war on AIDS, German researchers developing a preventive HIV vaccine said Monday they will shortly start testing it on humans.
The clinical human trial, which will take place in Germany and Belgium, will initially last a year and involve injecting the vaccine into 50 healthy volunteers. The testing phase is meant to determine the safety of the vaccine and check whether it produces immune responses.
researchers in Hamburg
The trial, backed by the New York-based International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), will be conducted at university clinics in Bonn and Hamburg as well as at hospitals in Brussels and Antwerp.
Known as tgAAC09, the vaccine targets HIV subtype C, prevalent in South Africa, India and China where a substantial amount of the over 40 million AIDS-infected people live.
No risk of infection during clinical trial
The project's science director, Jan van Lunzen said on Monday in Berlin that if the first testing phase proved successful, the second and third phases would be carried out in developing countries. Scientists say that if the vaccine proves effective, it will be available on the market in seven to eight years.
German scientist Jan van Lunzen
Lunzen (photo) has ruled out that participants in the trial run the risk of getting infected with the HIV virus. "One can definitely not get infected through this serum because we’re using very tiny parts of the virus. It’s also out of the question that the vaccine in itself can cause an infection; it’s primarily about safety and compatibility," he said.
Current vaccine superior to others
Experts say the present vaccine, which has already been successfully used on monkeys, has several advantages over other vaccines in the development phase. About 30 vaccines are currently being tested around the world.
As a single-shot vaccine, tgAAC09 would not require multiple injections over time as is the case with other vaccines. A single-shot AIDS vaccine would be particularly useful for developing countries, where most new HIV infections occur.
Because the vaccine is designed to elicit two different types of immune responses, an antibody response and a cell-mediated response, it is potentially very effective. Frans van den Boom, European director of IAVI said, "With this vaccine you have two arms of the immune system. The first arm is about creating anti-bodies to the vaccine, and the second arm is that killer cells clear HIV-infected cells, so that’s the cellular immunity arm. The vaccine has the potential to stimulate both arms of the immune system."
Preventive vaccine better than medicines
One-year-old AIDS sufferer Ncedo Masango in Swaziland.
Experts agree that a preventive vaccine may be the best hope for stopping the spread of the epidemic, now infecting 14,000 people daily, 95 percent of whom live in developing countries.
Professor Reinhard Kurth, president of the Berlin-based Robert Koch Institut said, "Medical history shows that it can only be a preventive vaccine. As important as it is that we now have medicines -- which, however, are so expensive that they can primarily be used in Western Europe and North America -- it is equally important that medicines don’t solve the AIDS problem, only vaccines can."
AIDS: "A medical catastrophe"
Kurth underlined the urgency in battling AIDS and stressed it was a moral duty to use German knowledge for AIDS research.
"AIDS has developed into the biggest medical catastrophe of our times, at most comparable to the appearance of the pest in Europe 650 years ago," he said. "We have to effectively combat AIDS with a vaccine otherwise there’s a real danger that the epidemic will really spiral out of control," he added.