Hutch News Stories

Combo anti-HIV vaccine excites Hutch researchers

Clinician David Berger
Clinician David Berger, nurse/clinic coordinator for the Seattle HIV Vaccine Trials Unit, checks the blood pressure of Scott Frank, vaccine-trial participant. Photo by Michelle Hruby

Seattle HIV researchers, volunteers and others gathered May 18 at Cabrini Medical Tower to commemorate the fourth annual HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.

Seattle area HIV researchers, volunteers and community members gathered May 18 at Cabrini Medical Tower to commemorate the fourth annual HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.

The day honored thousands of volunteers worldwide who have literally rolled up their sleeves to receive an experimental vaccine designed to prevent HIV infection.

Worldwide sites of the HIV Vaccines Trials Network sponsored activities to raise awareness about preventive HIV vaccine trials. The Seattle site provided information about the importance of vaccine research for halting the spread of HIV and how ordinary people can be a part of the international effort to stem the pandemic.

In addition, the Hutch's Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention - the data coordinating center for the network - used the day to raise awareness and funds to support community education at an international site.

The event coincided with the one-year anniversary of the network's establishment - and with optimism among HIV researchers about a combination vaccine, consisting of components made by Aventis-Pasteur of Paris and VaxGen Inc. of Brisbane, Calif.

Phase III evaluation

The vaccine, which elicited both CD8+ and CTL responses - key T cell-mediated immune system responses - in early trials is undergoing evaluation to determine whether it will enter Phase III trials by 2003. About 7,000 people in the United States and 5,000 people in the Caribbean and South America are expected to participate in the trial.

The trial will be coordinated at the Hutch, which serves as the leadership and coordination site for the network, an international collaboration established by the National Institutes of Health to speed development of a vaccine to prevent the acquisition of HIV.

Dr. Larry Corey, principal investigator of the network and head of the Hutch's Infectious Diseases program, said that he is "gratified that vaccines to induce HIV-1 CD8+ T cell responses are emerging."

The combination vaccine contains a viral coat protein, which stimulates the production of antibodies, as well as an inactivated canary pox virus containing HIV DNA, which stimulates the production of anti-HIV T cells. Preliminary studies in humans and animals have shown both vaccines are safe and cause no serious side effects.

Public-private partnership

The network is a public-private partnership designed to combine the skills of private industry and academic researchers to move favorable HIV vaccine candidates out of the development pipeline and into human testing. Much of that testing will be carried out in the network. Seventeen trial sites are located in the United States, while 11 are in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean, where the epidemic is particularly widespread.

One vaccine unit is in Seattle and headed by Dr. Julie McElrath of the Clinical Research Division. This clinic was set up in the late 1980s and has recruited nearly 1,000 volunteers in vaccine trials.

Dennis Torres, community education coordinator of the Hutch/University of Washington Vaccine Trials Unit, said last year's formation of the international network has infused researchers and staff, many of whom have been involved in HIV prevention for years, with renewed excitement.

"The network streamlines how vaccine research is done," he said, "and it has created an environment that encourages more companies to expand their work on HIV vaccine development."

Torres credited the Seattle community for tremendous support and involvement in HIV vaccine trials.

"We've had more participants in vaccine trials than any other site," he said.

The local unit recently recruited more than 50 people for a Phase II clinical trial of the combination vaccine that the network is coordinating in the United States. A Phase I trial is enrolling participants in Haiti, Trinidad and Brazil.

Every day, an estimated 15,000 people worldwide become infected with HIV. More than half of new infections occur in those under 25. About 47 percent of the 36.1 million adults living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are women, while 1.4 million of the world's children younger than 15 live with the disease. Then-President Clinton named May 18, 1997, HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, challenging the nation to develop a successful AIDS vaccine in 10 years.

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