Cuba to test new Aids vaccine on humans

Cuba's top biotech teams have successfully tested a new Aids vaccine on mice, and are ready to soon begin human testing, a leading researcher told a biotechnology conference in Havana.

"The new Aids trial vaccine already was tested successfully on mice and now we are preparing a very small, tightly controlled phase one clinical trial" with HIV-positive patients who are not in the advanced stages of disease, researcher Enrique Iglesias said.

Iglesias, who heads up the vaccine development team at the Biotech and Genetic Engineering Centre (CIGB) here, was speaking at the International Biotech Conference-Havana 2012, which started in Cuba's capital.

Previous clinical tests have failed

He told the crowd at the convention centre that the vaccine TERAVAC-HIV-1 was made from recombinant proteins aiming "to cause a cellular response against the HIV."

While upbeat, the Cuban expert was quick to downplay high hopes for a long-awaited successful Aids vaccine.

"So far, there have been more than 100 clinical tests on humans with HIV" in Cuba and other countries, "and all of them have failed," he stressed.

Billions spent on Aids prevention

Cuba, the Americas' only one-party Communist-ruled state, spends more than R1, 5billion a year on its Aids prevention and care programmes, including free care with antiretroviral, some of them Cuban-made.

The CIGB, which groups about 20 research units on Havana's leafy western end, is the engine behind a major Cuban export: biotech products including vaccines and other drugs.

The Caribbean country exports R3 billion a year in these products, making them its official number-two export after nickel.

Some 600 scientists from about 38 countries are taking part in the event including Nobel-winning US chemist Peter Agre, also a medical doctor and molecular biologist.

(Sapa, March 2012)

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