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Britain starts human trials of AIDS vaccine


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," McMichael said.

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 HIV infection."

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 statement.

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.


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Information in this article was accurate in August 31, 2000. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.