Dr. Robert Gallo, the man who in 1984 first proved that AIDS is caused by HIV and who now runs the Institute of Human Virology, has spent the last 15 years developing an AIDS vaccine. And now that vaccine is about to begin tests in humans, according to an article in Science magazine by Jon Cohen.
The Phase 1 trial will involve 60 volunteers and will focus only on testing the safety of and immune responses to the vaccine. It is being held in collaboration with Profectus BioSciences, a biotech that recently spun off from IHV.
There have been more than 100 AIDS vaccines tested over the years, but Science notes that Gallo and his team have developed a vaccine with “an unusual method of protection.”
The magazine explained that the vaccine, called “the full-length single chain vaccine,” “contains a version of HIV’s surface protein, gp120, engineered so that it links to a few portions of a protein called the CD4 receptor. When HIV infects cells, gp120 first binds to the CD4 receptor on white blood cells and then ‘transitions’ in such a way that hidden parts of the virus are exposed, allowing it to bind to a second receptor on the immune cells called CCR5. Once bound to both receptors, HIV can enter the white blood cell and establish an infection. The IHV vaccine aims to generate antibodies that bind to HIV’s gp120 when it’s in this transitional state, ultimately blocking attachment to CCR5, aborting the infection process.”
Gallo, now 78, said the development of the “full-length single chain vaccine” has taken so much time because he and his team have done extensive testing in monkeys and have faced “the typical vaccine challenges” in creating a human-grade product. They have also had to scramble for funding, he said.
But the researcher also acknowledged that he and his team took more time to bring the vaccine to trial because “We wanted more and more answers before going into people.”
The vaccine development team is being led by George Lewis with IHV, and includes Anthony DeVico and Timothy Fouts.