Monday, July 18, 2011

HIV Vaccine News

Recently, two new discoveries which may eventually lead to a vaccine for AIDS have been made by researchers. One, being presented at the IAS Conference in Rome this week, comes from the Maryland-based VirxSys Corporation. Researchers injected non-human primates with an altered form of SIV, the primate equivalent to HIV.

(Via CNN) Over the course of six months, five infected monkeys were injected with the vaccine three times, while five others were given a placebo vaccine. After 18 months, it was found that 40% of the vaccinated monkeys had very low to undetectable amounts of virus in their bodies.

“We are well on the path to a functional cure, at least in monkeys,” says Laurent Humeau, VirxSys vice president of research and development.

“Although this pre-clinical study is modest in terms of size, it is highly unusual to see near non-detectable levels of the virus not only circulating in the blood, but also in the reservoirs where HIV is known to replicate,” said Joep Lange, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, and head of the Amsterdam Institute of Global Health and Development.

In the monkeys, the vaccine’s effect was sustained two years after the initial vaccination, without the need for any booster shots.

Other researchers have created similar type therapeutic vaccines. In May, Dr. Louis Picker of the Oregon Health and Science University’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute announced a vaccine successful in preventing monkeys from acquiring SIV. Like the VirxSys vaccine, this was a genetically altered virus. In this case, the altered virus was CMV, from the herpes family.

But making the leap from monkeys to humans is a big step. Therapeutic vaccines "have looked really good in monkeys – but monkeys are not people and SIV is not HIV," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. "Really good concepts in primates have been duds in people.”

The other study, published last week, focused on antibodies which, if harnessed, could help the human body fight the HIV virus:

(Via US News) Researchers report that they've gained insight into the workings of the immune system's response to HIV, the AIDS virus, in certain people, potentially providing a boost as scientists work toward a vaccine.

The findings won't have an immediate big impact on either vaccine research or HIV treatment. However, they do reveal how soldiers of the immune system known as antibodies use special powers to combat the virus in some patients, said study co-author Dr. Michel C. Nussenzweig, a professor of immunology at The Rockefeller University in New York City.

Ultimately, he said, scientists could develop a vaccine that teaches people's bodies how to make the antibodies. "You'd try to make them do it themselves," he said, instead of pumping antibodies into the body.

Since the late 1990s, AIDS has largely become a treatable, chronic disease. But it can still be deadly, and many scientists think they're years away from developing a vaccine to prevent people from becoming infected in the first place.

In the new study, published online July 14 in Science, researchers focused on antibodies that are produced only in certain patients with HIV. They work by preventing the virus from picking the locks in cells that are supposed to keep germs out.

[If an item is not written by an IRMA member, it should not be construed that IRMA has taken a position on the article's content, whether in support or in opposition.]

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