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'Hopeful' step taken to HIV vaccine

Candy Chan

Thursday, May 16, 2013

University of Hong Kong researchers believe they are a step closer to developing a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.

Chen Zhiwei, director of the university's AIDS Institute, said the team has discovered a specific lymphatic cell which, when injected into laboratory mice, is able to induce high frequencies of CD8+T cells that eliminate HIV-infected cells.

"We're hopeful these trials will produce a vaccine. It's a ray of hope," Chen said.

The research team is looking for a pharmaceutical company to fund the tests on humans.

The laboratory developed the novel DNA vaccine over the past four years, costing around HK$20 million, Chen said. It will cost an estimated US$100 million (HK$780 million) for the first two phases of human trials.

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In the first phase, about 50 HIV- positive volunteers will be injected with the vaccine and observed for any negative or dangerous side effects.

If the vaccine is deemed safe, two more trials will follow, including one on several hundred people who are not HIV positive but are at a high risk of contracting the virus that may lead to AIDS because of lifestyle choices or family history.

Chen said developing a successful HIV vaccine is complicated because of the rapidity with which the virus mutates.

"So far there have been at least four vaccines formulated in an attempt to treat HIV worldwide, but all ended up in failure," he said.

"We have learned from experience and come up with a new perspective to enhance the function of CD8+T cells, so as to effectively eliminate HIV-infected cells in the body.

"If the vaccine works on humans, it will be a great leap forward not only in preventing HIV infection but also immunotherapy, for treating infected cases in the world."

In the United States, scientists binned the HVTN-505 vaccine after it failed to prevent HIV infection.


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