Human trials of HIV vaccine aim to replace drug 'cocktails'

As an HIV vaccine breakthrough in Thailand stirs interest and hope, a pioneering AIDS researcher at the University of Miami Medical School says she is preparing to start human trials for a new vaccine that would fight the deadly virus.

While the Thai experiment is the first to prevent infection by the HIV virus that creates AIDS, Dr. Margaret Fischl of UM is working on a vaccine that would be given to patients already infected with HIV to help boost their immune systems to fight off the disease. Both vaccines are years away.

If successful, the Fischl vaccine could replace the two- and three-drug "cocktails" of antiretroviral drugs now used to improve and prolong the lives of people with HIV. That approach is expensive and also produces numerous side effects.

Fischl is one the world's most respected AIDS researchers. In 1987, she was instrumental in developing AZT, a breakthrough that provided the first effective antiviral medicine that stopped AIDS from killing nearly all of its victims. It is still in use today along with many newer drugs, and AIDS deaths have plummeted.

Her new vaccine, being developed in conjunction with a major out-of-state biotech firm, has been successful in treating HIV in small mammals up to the size of rhesus monkeys. It should be ready for human trials by about January, she said.

"The goal is to use the vaccine as the mainstay of treatment, so infected people would no longer need (highly active anti-retroviral therapy) with its expense and side effects," Fischl said. "With this they would take a shot every year to boost their systems and keep them in shape."


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