Search for AIDS Vaccine Moves Into New Phase

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT


Nairobi (CNSNews.com) - Kenya is launching the second stage of trials for an AIDS vaccine, following the success of an initial phase that demonstrated the vaccine is safe for human use.

Kenyan and British scientists are developing the vaccine as part of a program being coordinated by a New York-based non-governmental agency, the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

Kenya project chairman Prof. Job Bwayo told reporters here that after a successful first phase, between 2,000 and 8,000 volunteers would be needed to participate in the imminent second phase.

The second and third phases of the trial aim to assess the safety and immune response to the vaccine, and determine the dose and frequency of administration.

Volunteers for the second phase would be people with a low risk of being infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, while those taking part in the third stage would include individuals at higher risk of infection, Bwayo said.

The Kenyan government is urging volunteers to come forward in large numbers for the trials.

IAVI president Dr. Seth Berkley said during a visit in Nairobi this week he was optimistic the vaccine could be ready for use by the end of 2004.

The research began in 2000, after University of Nairobi researchers, while studying sexually-transmitted diseases, discovered that prostitutes in a slum in the capital were not being infected with HIV, despite their high risk of exposure.

The women were found to be generating HIV-combating cells known as T-cells, which evidently reduced their chances of infection.

Phase one of the trials here involving about 18 volunteers, showed the vaccine that has been developed was safe, and generated these HIV-killing T-cells.

The vaccine is being designed to prevent HIV sub-type A, which is common in East Africa and parts of the Great Lakes Region.

The IAVI is also leading research into vaccines for sub-type B in the United States and France, and sub-types E in countries including Canada, Thailand and Brazil.

AIDS is the single greatest killer in Africa, and experts warn that the worse is yet to come.

South Africa and Botswana are currently the two worst-affected countries.

The U.S.-based Population Reference Bureau estimates that South Africa's population will drop from 44 million this year to 32.5 million in 2050, while that of Botswana is expected to fall during that same period from the current 1.5 million to 900,000.

The Bush administration has committed $15 billion over the next five years to help specified African and Caribbean nations fight the disease.

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