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New HIV Vaccine Approved for Human Tests

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Thursday December 22, 2011

A team of Canadian scientists from the University of Western Ontario have been given approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start testing humans on an experimental HIV vaccine they have developed, reported the Toronto Star in a Dec. 20 article.

The scientists have been researching a cure for 20 years and will finally be able to start testing the SAV001 vaccine in January. The group will test the vaccine on forty healthy people who have contracted the HIV virus.

"We started the basic science research two decades ago," Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, professor of virology at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario said. "The vaccine development, we started 10 years ago. This is incredible for us to get to this stage of development."

Kang said that the FDA's decision to allow testing is a "milestone" and that the vaccine "is the first preventive HIV vaccine approved for clinical trials to use a killed whole HIV-1 virus to activate the immune response in humans."

This method has been used a number of times to create vaccines for hepatitis, rabies influenza and polio.

The virus used in the vaccine has been genetically changed so that it can no longer cause HIV. The scientists continued to inactive the virus by using chemicals and radiation.

"In the past, people did not use this strategy (using a killed whole HIV virus) because people did not know how to make a safer virus and people did not know how to make large quantities of it," Kang said. "Now we have solved those problems by the genetic engineering of the virus."

The Star reports that the according to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative there are thirty HIV vaccines that are being tested in phase 1 trials around the world. Several of these vaccines are using the same method that Kang and his team used.

The Canadian Association of HIV Research President, Dr. Jonathan Angel, said it is thrilling for the FDA to approve the vaccine but creating an effective cure for HIV will take awhile. This is because the virus is extremely complex and scientists do not fully understand it yet.

If the vaccine passes stage one trials it will then be given to 600 HIV-negative individuals who are at high risk for HIV infection.

In the last phase the vaccine would be used on 6,000 HIV-negative people. Half would be given the SAV001 and half would be untreated. Officials would follow the progress of the individuals for three years.

Researchers have tried several attempts in the past to find a cure for HIV. EDGE reported in a Sept. 21 article that by stripping the cholesterol out of the HIV virus' membrane, researchers discovered they could "prevent an excessive initial response against the virus by the body's immune system". T-cells carry out this response and are the same cells HIV infects.

"HIV is very sneaky," the head of a research project, Imperial College London's Adriano Basso said. "It evades the host's defenses by triggering overblown responses that damage the immune system. It's like revving your car in first gear for too long -- eventually the engine blows out."

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