Volunteers sought for testing HIV vaccine

UM institute to take part in research on GeoVax product

April 15, 2006|By DENNIS O'BRIEN | DENNIS O'BRIEN,SUN REPORTER

The University of Maryland's Institute of Human Virology is one of four research centers nationwide seeking volunteers to test an experimental HIV vaccine.

"We're accepting volunteers immediately," said Dr. William A. Blattner, director of the institute's Epidemiology and Prevention Division.

The vaccine was developed at Emory University in Atlanta, and is being marketed by GeoVax Inc., an Atlanta biotech company. Clinical trials also are being conducted at St. Louis University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The vaccine is designed to prevent HIV infection, will be given to volunteers who are HIV negative in a series of four doses over two months. The first two doses contain fragments of DNA from the virus, which will trigger the immune system. The second two doses contain an altered pox virus designed to boost the immune system, Blattner said.

Blattner said he anticipates delivery of the first vaccine doses in the next week to 10 days. "Once it's here, we'll be ready to start vaccinating," he said.

If approved for market, the vaccine will target sexually active adults 18 to 45 years old. "One of the important things to remember is 10 people getting infected around the world every minute every day. There's a huge need for this vaccine," Blattner said.

The vaccine was developed at Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center, where work began in 1997. In tests on monkeys, it protected 22 of 23 rhesus macaques for more than three years, said Holly Korschun, an Emory spokeswoman.

The product is one of more than 30 preventive AIDS vaccines in the early stages of human clinical trials in two dozen countries, according to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, a prevention group.

A prototype vaccine was tested in 2003 and 2004 at other research centers. The testing at Maryland and the other three centers is an step in the FDA approval process, Korschun said.

"It's one of the most promising HIV vaccines being put out there for testing," Blattner said.

Four volunteers are being sought, he said. If initial tests show the vaccine is safe, additional tests involving more volunteers will be conducted.

By next year, Blattner said, the institute will need up to 100 volunteers for HIV vaccine testing.

dennis.obrien@baltsun.com

Those interested in volunteering here should call 866-448-4448.

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