The news that Caltech was developing a potential vaccine for HIV was considered one the biggest stories of 2012. And now, less than a year later, researchers at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University in London, Ontario have announced that the vaccine not only passed its first round of clinical testing, but even boosted the production of antibodies in patients it was tested on.
The SAV001 vaccine is one of only a handful of HIV vaccines in the world, and is based on a genetically-modified ‘dead’ version of the virus. U.S. clinical testing began in the in March 2012, looking at HIV-infected men and women between the ages of 18 and 50. Half the target group was administered a placebo, while the other group was given SAV001. The first phase of trials wrapped up last month, with researchers optimistic about the vaccine’s future.
Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, a professor of microbiology and immunology and the head of the Western research team, explained the process in a recent interview with the Ontario Business Report:
We infect the cells with a genetically modified HIV-1. The infected cells produce lots of virus, which we collect, purify and inactivate so that the vaccine won’t cause AIDS in recipients, but will trigger immune responses.
This is the reverse of what researchers at Caltech did, who relied on a technique known as Vectored ImmunoProphylaxis (VIP) to stimulate antibody formation in lab mice. Here too, the researchers received immensely positive results. After introducing up 100 times the amount of HIV virus that what would be required to cause infection, the mice remained protected.
By demonstrating that not one, but two different methods of preventing the spread of HIV are effective, we could be looking at turning point in the war on HIV/AIDS. The only question is, when will a vaccine be commercially available? According to Sumagen, the South Korean biotech firm sponsoring the creation vaccine, manufacturing, as well as the USFDA requirements and other bureaucratic hurdles remain to contend with.
But, if all goes well with future trials, it could be commercially available in as little as five years. As CEO Jung-Gee Cho said in a press release:
We are now prepared to take the next steps towards Phase II and Phase III clinical trials. We are opening the gate to pharmaceutical companies, government, and charity organization for collaboration to be one step closer to the first commercialized HIV vaccine.
Paired with a possible cure which relies on nanoparticles and bee venom, we could even be looking at the beginning of the end of the pandemic, one which has caused between 25 and 30 million deaths worldwide since its discovery in 1981.
And in the meantime, check out this interview of Dr. Chil-Yong Kang as he explains how he and his research team developed their HIV vaccine, courtesy of the CHIR Canadian HIV Trial Network:
Sources: huffingtonpost.ca, mri.gov.on.ca, aids.gov, unaids.org