After six years of clinical trials on more than 16,000 Thailand volunteers the newest AIDS vaccine, the RV 144, was deemed a success. The vaccine is a combination of two genetically engineered vaccines that had not worked on humans in the past. In the clinical trials, the people who received the RV 144 became infected at around one third the rate of others in the group.
Even though this trial was considered a success it is just the beginning and experts expect it to take years to develop a vaccine that will be strong enough to work on everyone and end the epidemic. AIDS is the acronym for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Over 25 million people have died from this killer disease.
This trial was the largest one involving an AIDS vaccine in trial history. The cost was a whopping $105 million and followed 16,402 men and women ages 18 to 30. Half of the group received the combination of the two vaccines while the other half received placebos.
All were instructed on safe sex precautions and were offered condoms. They were instructed on how to avoid getting the infection and in exchange for their participation in the clinical trials they were promised antiretroviral treatment for the rest of their lives if they contracted the AIDS virus.
The volunteers were tested over a three year period and the results showed that 74 of the people who received the placebo tested positive for AIDS while only 51 of the people who received the vaccine came down with AIDS. Even this slim margin of 23 people showed that the vaccine was 31.2 percent effective which is a higher level of effectiveness than has been achieved so far.
Both vaccines had failed on their own in past clinical trials. One vaccine was from Sanofi-Aventis, a French company, and the other was from Genotech but it has since been licensed to the nonprofit health group Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases.
The vaccine from Sanofi-Aventis has three AIDS virus genes grafted onto it where the other vaccine includes a protein that is found on the surface of the AIDS virus. Clinical trials of a vaccine by Merck were stopped in 2007 as it was found to not be effective and even seemed to increase the risk of infection.
The combination of the two vaccines was just coincidental. One vaccine was meant to create antibodies and the other was to work with white blood cells. Putting them together has generated some interesting results and seems to have opened the door or further trials and vaccines.
Dr. Lawrence Corey, the lead investigator with the HIV Vaccine Trial Network, felt that new trials could be faster and smaller in size if they were conducted in African countries where AIDS is more prevalent rather than in Thailand.
The questions that researchers are working on know are why did the vaccine work on some people and not in others and why did other people contract the virus even after receiving the vaccine.