Image copyright Damien de Quartet Image caption
For the first time, a publicly funded group of Australians has enrolled in a large vaccine trial to test whether it is safe for the country’s first cases of HIV.
The vaccine, which is being developed by Pfizer, provided some protection against the virus, according to a study conducted by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
It is hoped that using the vaccine will allow HIV-positive people to live longer and healthier lives.
In 2006, HIV was declared a “national public health emergency” and the development of an affordable vaccine since then has been a major priority.
According to NHMRC, 24,300 Australians are living with HIV today, and about 400 of those are diagnosed every year.
The ABC reported on Thursday that this number is likely to increase by an additional 1,300 over the next five years.
Key points from the study [Source: NHMRC ]
The vaccine, which is known as the ADVAX 3 vaccine, would be given to “more than half a million high-risk Australians”.
It would reduce the risk of HIV infection by 37.5% for those people, compared to no protection from the vaccine.
The vaccine, made up of a protein called HIV gp121, had no side effects.
The trial had about 800 participants
The vaccine has been around for a long time, but it was only developed in recent years.
Dr David Young, the director of NHMRC’s Public Health Trials Unit, told the ABC that two recent developments had prompted its development.
“The first is that we had a lot of success with the HIV vaccine trials in Thailand over 10 years ago, and to be honest it was one of the best-done vaccines ever, so there were all sorts of paper manuscripts and lots of published science behind it,” he said.
“Second is that the US developed an AIDS vaccine, HIV PEP, which was a bit of a flop, but the idea was to give that in an injection in the low-dose arm.”
“When we started we had penty of technical problems to overcome, one was the need to adjust the vaccine so that it actually detected a variety of HIV strains that scientists had seen in reference.”
It has taken many years to develop the vaccine, with seven trials and more than 100,000 people vaccinated during the research.
“We’ve gone through many different vaccine approaches and now we’ve got a test candidate which is being trialled in people,” Dr Young said.
He added that the final verdict would not be known for “a few years”.
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“We’ve got to have a good understanding of all these various factors before we’ve got something safe and effective,” he said.
“Right now we’re quite confident that we do have a very good vaccine candidate and it’s only when we do our clinical studies – it will take a few years to do those trials – that we’ll really be able to prove that it actually works.”