New AIDS vaccine to undergo human trial next month

An announcement by Canadian scientists, stating that a breakthrough in the search for a HIV/AIDS vaccine was close at hand, has generated excitement.  The team of researchers, led by virologist Dr. Chil-Yong Kang of the University of Western Ontario, have received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to begin human trials on a preventive HIV vaccine in January next year.
Dr Anita Asiimwe
Dr Anita Asiimwe

An announcement by Canadian scientists, stating that a breakthrough in the search for a HIV/AIDS vaccine was close at hand, has generated excitement.

The team of researchers, led by virologist Dr. Chil-Yong Kang of the University of Western Ontario, have received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to begin human trials on a preventive HIV vaccine in January next year.

Speaking to The New Times yesterday, the Deputy Director General of Rwanda Biomedical Centre and Head of Institute of HIV /AIDS Disease Prevention and Control, Dr Anita Asiimwe, said global effort toward HIV/AIDS prevention were impressive.

“We are very interested in the findings of the scientists; we are always supportive of such initiatives, but we also have our local projects working on finding the vaccine…AIDS is a global concern, which is why we are all trying jointly to find the vaccine,” said Dr Asiimwe.

 The Canadian researchers’ plans to start the first phase of the clinical trials on 40 HIV positive patients to test the safety of the vaccine.

Rwanda’s initiative to discover an HIV vaccine is being spearheaded by Project San Francisco. According to the Director of the Project, Dr Etienne Karita, the Canadian researchers have not contacted him to share their findings.

“We are making progress in our research; so far we have entered the third phase of our trials… in the vaccine trials there are key elements to look at, mainly safety,” said Dr Karita.

Project San Francisco partners with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative in its quest to find an HIV Vaccine.

According to Marie-Michelle Umulisa, the Community Outreach Manager at Project Ubuzima, a not for profit organisation conducting clinical trials on microbicides, if the vaccine works, it will be a major breakthrough.

“In our work, we try to partner with everything trying to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. We exchange data with the scientists anytime they ask,” said Umulisa.

The new development has also impressed many, who say that millions of lives can be saved if the vaccine works.

“We are optimistic a vaccine will be found, and the day it comes on the market, many will be saved,” said Sylvie Muneza, the head of Igihozo Association of HIV/Aids Patients.

The vaccine dubbed ‘SAV00’ has already gone through preliminary toxicology tests without showing any adverse effects or safety concerns and can be produced in large quantities.

According to scientists, the vaccine is unique in that it uses a dead HIV-1 virus — similar to vaccines used against polio and influenza — and is genetically engineered to be non-pathogenic, meaning it won’t cause HIV in recipients.

“So we infect the cells with a virus and then the infected cells will produce lots of virus and we can collect them, purify them and then inactivate them,” Kang said in a video explaining the vaccine posted on the University of Western Ontario’s YouTube channel.

edwin.musoni@newtimes.co.rw

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