LONDON (Reuters) - A British parliamentarian will on Thursday
be the first human to be injected with a new prototype vaccine
against AIDS. Dr. Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat Member of
Parliament, says he volunteered to take part in clinical trials
because he believes an effective vaccination is the only way to
combat the deadly disease.
Dr. Andrew McMichael, the scientist leading the trials for
Britain's Medical Research Council (MRC), said the trials were
"a vital part of an international effort to save lives."
If the vaccine proves safe it will then be tested in Nairobi,
Kenya in three to six months time, the MRC said in a statement.
A total of 18 people will take part in the first phase of the
trials in Britain.
Dr. Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine
Initiative said the volunteers, all healthy people who do not
have the HIV virus and are considered to be in low-risk
categories, were "the true heroes of this endeavor."
McMichael told BBC radio that safety was the primary objective.
"The first thing we have to do is to make sure that it really
is absolutely safe," he said. "We believe it will be safe but
we have to check it to be sure."
It is the first AIDS vaccine designed specifically to fight the
strain of virus seen in Africa, called strain "A." It was
cleared for testing in humans last month.
"It is aimed at Africa and it is aimed at a particular type of
immune response, which we call the T-cell immune response,"
The vaccine, one of more than 70 being tested around the world,
is a DNA vaccine based on genetic material taken from the
virus. It was developed after doctors found that some
prostitutes in Kenya, where the "A" strain of the disease is
dominant, never contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Scientists think this is because some people's immune systems
can successfully destroy the virus using so-called T-cells.
McMichael said researchers would use the British trials to
examine what kind of immune response was stimulated.
"We (will) measure the immune response from blood samples we
take and look at it in a laboratory," he said. "If everything
is safe in these first trials we will then move to Africa and
we will eventually test it in people who are at high risk of
Harris, who worked with HIV patients when he was a junior
doctor before becoming an MP, said he was pleased to be
involved in such an important trial. "I am confident the
vaccine is safe and that it will prime the immune system to be
able to protect against HIV infections," he said in a
Experts say a vaccine is the only real way to fight the AIDS
pandemic, which has killed nearly 19 million people worldwide.
But it is likely to be at least a decade until this vaccine, if
proved safe, would be ready to be used globally.