/ 28 November 2008

Trial of HIV vaccine ‘a milestone for SA’

Clinical testing of the first HIV vaccine developed in Africa will start in the United States next week, the South African Aids Vaccine Initiative (Saavi) said on Friday.

”This clinical trial represents a milestone for South Africa, as one of the few developing countries to have developed an HIV vaccine and progressed it into human clinical trials,” Medical Research Council president Anthony Mbewu said.

”It is progress in the search for an HIV vaccine that would provide the best chance to halt the global HIV epidemic; as well as a significant step in South Africa’s growing competence in complex vaccine development.”

The trial, called Saavi 102/HVTN 073, will test two vaccines developed by the University of Cape Town (UCT) and jointly funded by Saavi and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the US National Institutes of Health.

”The development of these vaccines is the culmination of eight years of research and development, which has involved scientists across South Africa and globally,” Saavi said in a statement.

”It is the first HIV test vaccine developed in Africa to make it into human clinical trials.”

The vaccine is for the HIV subtype C, the dominant strain in Southern Africa.

The trial starts in Boston in the United States next week, while testing in South Africa starts in January.

”The US arm of the trial will involve 12 participants while the South African arm, once approved, aims to recruit 36 participants from two sites, one in the Western Cape and another in Gauteng.

”The test vaccines — called Saavi MVA-C and Saavi DNA-C2 — have shown promising results in animal testing,” Saavi said.

”The DNA vaccine was wholly developed by South Africans while the MVA vaccine was designed by the team at UCT and constructed and manufactured in the US.”

The phase-one trial for an HIV vaccine tests for safety, tolerability and side-effects and also looks at the effect of the vaccine on the immune system.

If that phase, which in this case would be nine months long, is successful, the second and third phases with more volunteers would follow.

If all three phases are successful, the vaccine can be licensed for public use.

Ultimately, the success of a vaccine is tested by administering it to a population and monitoring its Aids statistics and checking if the incidence of the diseases drops.

”While there have been recent disappointments in vaccine research, we need to keep trying to find an HIV vaccine as this is our best hope of ultimately controlling this devastating epidemic,” said Glenda Gray, lead investigator on the clinical trials team.

The trial starts in the same week as World Aids Day on December 1.

In South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions will hold a 30-minute work stoppage at midday on Monday to give workers the opportunity to discuss how Aids has affected their lives.

A report released on Friday showed that about 9 000 members of the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union participated in the union’s voluntary counselling and testing programme between January and October this year. — Sapa