Breakthrough trial protects monkeys from HIV-like virus

Scientists for the first time have successfully used a vaccine to protect monkeys from contracting their version of the AIDS virus.

Johnson & Johnson ($J&J) subsidiary Crucell NV of the Netherlands produced the most successful vaccine used in the trial, the researchers said.

The news, even in preclinical animal trial results, is a major breakthrough in the quest to come up with an HIV vaccine for humans. Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal and many other media outlets picked up on the finding because of its significance. Think about it: After more than 30 years of trying and failing, an HIV vaccine may finally be within reach. Existing treatments, of course, can reduce the levels of HIV in the body but there is no cure for HIV, which infects millions of people globally each year.

We'll learn soon enough if the approach works in humans, because the Harvard Medical School and U.S. Military HIV Research Program scientists who conducted the study now plan to test the Crucell/J&J vaccine in people, along with a booster shot developed by the U.S. military and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, according to the reports.

Study leader Dan Barouch of Harvard Medical School-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and other researchers tested various "prime-boost"vaccines against a highly potent strain of SIV, simian immunodeficiency virus, the WSJ and the Bloomberg Businessweek pieces note. They used different combinations of cold and pox viruses, infused them with SIV proteins and then vaccinated the monkeys. Then, scientists exposed them to an SIV variation genetically different from the one used in the vaccine. As few as 12% of monkeys exposed to the virus became infected after the first of six exposures to SIV, versus 75% who received a placebo. Crucell/Johnson & Johnson's prime vaccine plus the booster shot represented the most promising of the combinations tried, Bloomberg Businessweek noted.

Of course, there are some sobering counterpoints. While this is the first vaccine that helped prevent monkeys from becoming infected after their initial exposure, most eventually contracted the virus after their sixth time facing SIV. But Barouch told Bloomberg Businessweek that the trial virus is about 100 times more infectious then the HIV humans get.

A previous human vaccine trial generated partial, limited success in Thailand in 2009.

- here's the Bloomberg Businessweek story
- read the WSJ piece via
- check out Nature's coverage
- consider the journal abstract

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