Researcher Donald Francis, co-founder of Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases, was surprised this week after decades of work discovered that an AIDS vaccine may help the spread of HIV may actually showed some promise.
Fischl who is one of the more respected AIDS researchers was instrumental in 1987 in a break through with AZT that eventually made available the first effective antiviral medicine which helped reduce AIDS death. Her new vaccine, being developed in conjunction with a major out-of-state biotech firm, has been successful in treating HIV in small mammals up to the size of rhesus monkeys. “It should be ready for human trials by about January”, she said.
“The goal is to use the vaccine as the mainstay of treatment, so infected people would no longer need HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), with its expense and side effects,” Fischl said. “With this, they would take a shot every year to boost their systems and keep them in shape.”
The experimental AIDS vaccine that showed promise was tested on 16,000 heterosexual volunteers and seems to be safe and modestly effective. These resultssurprised researchers, who had become used to failure in the decades-long effort to find a vaccine to protect against HIV infection. In the three-year experiment, 74 of 8,198 people who received placebo shots became infected with HIV compared with 51 of 8,197 people who received the vaccine, suggesting the vaccine regimen could have reduced the risk of being infected by 31%.
“Anti-retrovirals are obviously a very important tool against AIDS, but preventing infections is the highest priority,” said Saladin Osmanov, coordinator of the HIV-vaccine initiative overseen by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, an arm of the United Nations. Still, the AIDS vaccine does show promise.
“At this point, especially after all the failures, any promising information is exciting,” said Dr. Phillip Berman, a VaxGen co-founder and inventor of the vaccine, who woke up to the news Thursday morning. “But it’s still a long way to having an approved product and figuring out how to deliver the vaccine to the people who need it the most.”
Alan Bernstein, executive director of the New York-based Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, which is not involved in Fischl’s study, called news of Fischl’s vaccine trial “Great news for people who already have HIV.”
“We don’t really know why and how this vaccine worked and did what it did,” said Dr. Bernstein, “This trial is raising more questions almost than it’s answering,” he said. “It’s opened the door and it’s opened up a whole lot of questions that are answerable and will be answered over the next months and years to come.”
The researchers that discovered that an AIDS vaccine showed promise for now will try to figure out why the latest vaccine worked when previous ones failed, and why it worked for some participants and not others. They also need to understand how long the vaccine’s protection lasts and whether its efficacy can be boosted beyond 31%.
The Miami Herald
Written by Tyler Woods Ph.D.
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