Human trials for AIDS vaccine with 50% success rate

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

An experimental AIDS vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is set to begin human clinical trials after being shown to effectively protect 50 percent of monkeys from the disease, making it the first substance to reach this stage since 2009.

The vaccine protected six out of 12 primates that received it from becoming infected from the simian version of HIV, Bloomberg reported late last week. The human trials of the vaccine, the first involving AIDS patients since 2009, have been started with 400 volunteers throughout the US, Thailand, South Africa, Rwanda, and Uganda, with results expected next year.

The trials will determine if the vaccine is safe and can successfully generate immune response in patients, the media company added. Chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels said that J&J thinks there is “a very good chance that we’ll show efficacy,” and if so, the company will move on to a large-scale study to prove its effectiveness. Results from that could come as early as 2020.

Mitchell Warren of the HIV vaccine and treatment advocacy group AVAC told NBC News that the results thus far are “quite promising” but cautioned that there is still “a long way to go.” The results of the research have been published in a recent edition of the journal Science.

Reason to be ‘optimistic’

According to Bloomberg, the new vaccine is a prime-boost vaccine comprised of two different parts. The first is a virus that causes a cold, but sneaks a trio of HIV proteins into the body, thus preparing a person’s immune system to generate antibodies. The second is a booster comprised of a purified HIV protein, which enhances that immune response.

Researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston gave the full vaccine to 12 monkeys, just the prime vaccine to 12 others, and placebo inoculations to a third group of eight more. Each of the monkeys were then given six doses of simian HIV that were 100 times more infectious than the virus that humans are typically exposed to.

Six of the 12 monkeys that received both parts of the vaccine remained HIV free, as did two of those receiving only the prime vaccine. All of the monkeys that received a fake vaccine wound up being infected. To further prove the treatment’s effectiveness, they took blood from protected monkeys and gave it to new ones to see if they would become infected. None did.

“There’s more reason to be optimistic now than ever before, but we still have a long ways to go,” said Dan Barouch, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical and leader of the study. “Over the course of the HIV epidemic there have only been four concepts that have been tested in humans. We need more shots on goal.”

“This is the first time in quite a number of years that a major pharmaceutical company has sponsored the clinical development of an HIV vaccine candidate,” he added in separate comments made to NBC News. “One of the big limitations of the HIV vaccine field has been the relative degree of reluctance of major pharmaceutical companies to take on the responsibility of a clinical development program.”


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