Hope for an AIDS Vaccine - Pharmaceutical Technology

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Hope for an AIDS Vaccine
World AIDS Day 2010 reminds us that prevention and hope can help fight the disease.


Pharmaceutical Technology
Volume 34, Issue 12, pp. 14


Alexis Pellek
The 22nd World AIDS Day, a time for highlighting the importance of awareness, prevention, and support for those living with HIV/AIDS, was held Dec. 1, 2010. According to estimates from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, there are 33.4 million people living with HIV, with 2.7 million new infections in 2008 and 2 million AIDS-related deaths in 2008. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 1.1 million Americans live with HIV, 56,000 contract HIV each year, and that 1 in 5 infected Americans is unaware of his or her status.

Aids.gov, maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services, dedicated a page to World AIDS Day that provided educational resources. The website also encouraged visitors to read President Obama's national HIV/AIDS strategy. The plan aims to reduce the annual number of new HIV infections by 25% in the next five years and focuses on preventing new infections, increasing access to care, decreasing HIV-related health disparities, increasing education, and encouraging HIV testing.

Preventing new infections is now achieved through education and awareness, and biotechnology companies are working to develop prophylactic vaccines that will one day halt the spread of the disease. A collaboration between the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Division of AIDS (DAIDS), the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the biopharmaceutical company Crucell (Leiden, Netherlands) began a clinical trial in October.

The study, which was announced in August of this year, will evaluate two preventative AIDS vaccine candidates in a prime-boost regimen, in which the combined vaccines enhance the immune response. Vaccinations were administered at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and the trial may be expanded to as many as six research centers in the US and Africa. The trial is expected to take approximately two years to complete.

Another preventative AIDS vaccine clinical trial, now in Phase IIa, is being conducted by the biotechnology company GeoVax Labs. The vaccine is designed to prevent HIV-1 and limit the progression to AIDS if a person becomes infected. The vaccine was developed with help from the CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Emory University under the direction of Harriet Robinson, GeoVax's chief scientific officer. The company is also using the vaccine candidate in a Phase I therapeutic trial that is studying the ability of the vaccine to boost the immune system of HIV-positive individuals. The therapeutic trial is "directed toward individuals who are positive for HIV, with the intent of being able to wean them off their oral medication and allow their own immune system to fight the HIV virus," Robert T. McNally, president and CEO of GeoVax, said in a company video posted on YouTube.

Two biotechnology companies were awarded grants in early October to support their work on AIDS vaccines. Profectus BioSciences (Baltimore, MD) received a $3.1-million fast-track small business innovative research (SBIR) grant from DAIDS for the development of an HIV vaccine. The company presented data at the 2010 AIDS Vaccine Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, held Sept. 28–Oct. 1, showing that research demonstrated "significant protective responses" in primate models for HIV, according to a company press release. Altravax (Fargo, ND) received two SBIR grants totaling $1.2 million from NIH for research on antibody-inducing vaccines for HIV-1. Altravax will use its proprietary MolecularBreeding technology platform to create vaccine antigens that broadly target the numerous HIV-1 strains.

Alexis Pellek is an assistant editor of Pharmaceutical Technology.

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