Experimental AIDS Vaccine May Help Some
By PAUL ELIAS
The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A highly anticipated experimental AIDS vaccine failed to
protect most people from the disease in its first major trial, although it
did show promise in protecting blacks and Asians, its developer said.
The overall expected rate of infection was not reduced in the high-risk
people who volunteered to take the vaccine, VaxGen Inc. said late Sunday.
However, the expected infection rate for the 314 black volunteers who
received the vaccine was reduced by 78 percent - a finding the researchers
said was unexpected. The rate was reduced by 67 percent for all nonwhite
volunteers other than Hispanics.
"This is the first time we have specific numbers to suggest that a vaccine
has prevented HIV infection in humans,"VaxGen vice president Phillip Berman
said in a prepared statement Sunday. "We're not sure yet why certain groups
have a better immune response."
The Brisbane, Calif.-based company said it planned to continue developing the
vaccine and will examine more closely why it worked better in blacks and
Asians than it did in whites and Hispanics.
Experts believe a vaccine is the most promising way to stop the worldwide
AIDS epidemic, which has already killed 20 million people and infected 40
million more. Several other vaccines are in development.
The Food and Drug Administration told Vaxgen it would consider approving its
AIDSVAX vaccine even if it was only 30 percent effective - reflecting the
urgency of finding weapons against the AIDS epidemic. VaxGen did not manage
that reduced threshhold. Most approved vaccines are more than 80 percent
The publicly traded company's stock has risen and fallen dramatically during
the last year as rumors of the experiment's results swirled. It sold for as
low as $4.81 a share and as high as $23.25. It closed at $13.02 in trading on
the Nasdaq Stock Market Friday.
The experiment, which initially involved 5,400 people at high risk for the
disease, had been criticized by some activists who say it could encourage
risky behavior. Even if the vaccine proved effective on some level, there
might be no way to tell if it has worked on a particular individual.
But VaxGen has won widespread praise from doctors and the FDA for its
handling of an ethically difficult test. The company counseled patients in
the experiments to practice safe sex because the vaccine may not work and
because one-third of the volunteers received the placebo.
AIDSVAX works by inducing the immune system to produce antibodies that attach
to a protein on the surface of the virus, blocking its ability to infect
The company is also conducting a test of 2,500 intravenous drug-users in
Thailand, with results to be released later this year.
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