AIDS Vaccine Development Not Targeting Common African HIV Strain, Harvard Expert Says
AIDS vaccine trials are "failing to address the needs of millions of Africans at risk for the disease," Dr. Seyou Ayehunie of Harvard University said at a U.N. panel discussion sponsored by WHO and the International Health Awareness network, according to a U.N. release. Ayehunie stressed that in order to "fully understand the spread of AIDS in Africa in all its dimensions," it is critical to understand the prevalent strains of HIV. Of the several subtypes of HIV in Africa, subtype C is the "most fierce by far," causing 90% of all infections in Africa and 75% of infections worldwide. But the subtype is only represented in 5% of vaccine trials, Ayehunie pointed out (U.N. release, 3/12).
South African Vaccine 'Steams Ahead'
Meanwhile, the South African HIV Vaccine Action Campaign has completed laboratory research on a potential vaccine, and human trials are expected to start in the third quarter of the year, according to Health-e. Project Manager Zo Mbelle described the process as "very, very exciting," saying that the trial "will put South Africa on the map, and show that we have the capacity to develop our own vaccine, unlike many other African countries who have depended on scientists from Europe and the United States" Medical Research Council spokesperson Michelle Galloway added, "Dr. Carolyn Williamson of the University of Cape Town and Lynn Morris of the National Institute of Virology have been collaborating with Alphavax, based at the University of North Carolina, to produce a South African-based vaccine utilizing the Venezuelan encephalitis virus." According to Williamson, the VEE has been manipulated to act as a "delivery system" for HIV genetic material. The vaccine "enters the cells and makes copies of itself, which results in the production of large amounts of HIV protein. The body identifies these proteins as foreign and makes a strong immune response against them," she added. Williamson called it a "dummy run" for real HIV infection. Human trials will be conducted at the R.K. Khan Hospital in Durban. Alphavax has also been working on a similar vaccine for HIV subtype B in the United States, and currently 10 other candidate vaccines are being developed in South Africa. Last week, Kenya launched the continent's first human trial of an HIV vaccine, but it is based on HIV subtype A, the most common form of the disease in East Africa (Cullinan, Health-e, 3/8).