Emory University Set to Begin Human Trials of HIV Vaccine Next Month
Human trials for an Emory University HIV vaccine that uses a "two-step strategy" involving DNA injections are set to begin in early October, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The experimental vaccine, developed by Emory University researcher Harriet Robinson and her colleagues, uses a different approach to fighting HIV than many other potential vaccines. Instead of using weakened or "killed" versions of the virus -- as polio and influenza vaccines do -- to "rally" an individual's antibodies, Robinson's vaccine attempts to activate the body's "killer cells," which track and destroy cells in the body that have been infected by the virus. The vaccine involves an initial DNA shot to "aler[t]" the cells and a follow-up booster shot to enlist a more "focused" response from the cells to produce the needed "potent immune response." Robinson's team, along with Merck scientists and researchers at the University of Oxford, are among the "few" who are pursuing the DNA shot approach to an HIV vaccine. Although both Merck, which uses a different version of the virus and different genes than Emory for its vaccine, and the University of Oxford are further along in their testing, the Emory researchers will next month begin testing their vaccine on approximately 30 volunteers at the University of Alabama, the University of Washington and the University of California-San Francisco (Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/15).
Journal-Constitution Profiles Robinson
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday in a separate article profiled Robinson, who is the "national leader" in the effort to create an HIV vaccine and who helped "pioneer" the "DNA shot" that is used in Emory's experimental vaccine. Robinson, who works at Emory's Vaccine Research Center, has made "significant" discoveries in the field of HIV/AIDS research, according to the Journal-Constitution. Dr. Neal Nathanson, vice provost for research at the University of Pennsylvania and former director of the NIH Office of AIDS Research, said that Robinson's unique DNA approach to fighting HIV is "one of the two or three [approaches to fighting HIV] at the front of the race right now," adding that even if the approach reveals itself to be unsuccessful in fighting HIV, it "will probably be adopted for other diseases." Robinson began focusing on developing an HIV vaccine at a time when large pharmaceutical companies were "largely ignoring" the idea (Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/15).