HIV vaccine looks promising

After decades of uncertainty, with millions infected and millions more dead, a Canadian team of researchers may be the world’s ultimate defence in the battle against HIV/Aids.

Doctor Chil-Yong Yang, of biotech firm Sumagen Canada Incorporated, and his team at Western University, recently confirmed that they have successfully passed their first phase of human testing.

A phase I trial is a safety trial, which aims to confirm that the test vaccine does not produce significant side effects in human volunteers.

In a joint statement, the team announced they had a potential breakthrough in their research into a potential vaccine for the virus that causes Aids.

Since the HI virus was identified in 1983, pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions around the world have attempted, yet consistently failed, to develop a successful vaccine.

Cautiously optimistic

However, Dr Chil-Yong Yang and his team noted that there was still more trials to be done before they would know for certain if the SAV001-H vaccine would the answer to the worlds battle with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has decimated entire households and continues to affect scores of people across the globe.

 “The progress in understanding the molecular biology of human immunodeficiency virus has been enormous. However, all this progress has yet to crack the central mystery of AIDS and an effective vaccine to prevent Aids has yet to be developed,” said Dr Kang.

Decidedly more optimistic, Sumagen CEO, Jung-Gee Cho, said they are now prepared to take the next steps towards Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials.

“We are opening the gates to pharmaceutical companies, governments, and charity organisations for collaboration to be one step closer to the first commercialised HIV vaccine for all," said Jung-Gee Cho in the joint statement.

Why a vaccine is needed?

The World Health Organization estimates there are more than 35 million people living with HIV worldwide.

South Africa remains one of the hardest hit nations, with the number of new infections having climbed from 5.4 million in 2008 to 6.4 million at present.

And women continue to be hardest-hit by the pandemic, with approximately four million women and just over two million men now living with the HI virus, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) said in its 2012 National HIV Household Survey, released during the 6th South African Aids Conference, in Durban earlier this year.

The survey also found that HIV prevalence among unmarried people (19.2%) is twice that of married people (9.8%) and that unmarried people also have more multiple sexual partners (two or more) than married people. 

Yet despite these alarming figures, South Africans are not concerned enough to change their sexual habits, with condom use having declined in all age groups.

“From our findings, we can see a significant decline in condom use, especially among the 15 to 24 age group,” the HSRC’s Prof Leickness Simbayi told delegates at the conference.

HSRC officials expressed concern over the lack in behaviour change reflected by the poor rates of condom use.

“Until there is an effective HIV vaccine available, condom use remains one of the most effective means to prevent HIV infection among sexually active people,” HSRC CEO, Dr. Olive Shisana said, urging greater education on the benefits of condom-use in the form of media campaigns and at school level.

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