New HIV vaccine showing initial success

January 9, 2012 7:07:54 PM PST
There are at least a dozen clinical trials focusing on finding an HIV vaccine. Now a new one is being developed that is taking a very different approach and it's showing initial success.

The objective of this 100-percent vaccine is to generate strong T-cell responses before the HIV virus can infect healthy cells.

The synthetic HIV vaccine being tried is called Pennvax. It's different in that the virus was developed on a computer and moved into the lab.

"Because you can engineer these sequences using the full extent of our genetic engineering and human and viral genomes, we can generate a safer and hopefully more effective vaccine," Inovio Pharmaceuticals CEO Joseph Kim said.

The company called Inovio has already seen some success in early trials in three cities in the United States.

"In a 48-patient study we just completed in the U.S., we were able to generate the highest levels of T-cells generated by any vaccines for HIV in the last 15 years," Kim said.

T-cells orchestrate the body's immune response.

With a $25 million grant from the National Institute of Health, the company will now conduct more trials in other U.S. cities including San Francisco. Developing an HIV vaccine has proven harder than researchers initially thought.

"The vaccine, the cure, I mean, is that really ever going to happen?" said San Francisco resident Peter Green.

"HIV integrates itself into your own DNA and so you don't get rid of it," Susan Buchbinder, director of the HIV research section for the San Francisco Health Department, said.

But clinical trials are now telling researchers more about the body's immune response.

"Now we have a much better sense of what the immune response is that we need so that we can start working on developing the vaccines to target those specific immune responses," Buchbinder said.

"We're optimistic that the vaccines going to be there, eventually. With all the advances of modern technology and genetic engineering, hopefully we'll get a vaccine." San Francisco resident Juan Carlos Rayo said.

The company says if the trials are successful, a vaccine could be on the market in five years, at the earliest. But again, researchers say we've heard similar projections from other studies before.