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Merck HIV vaccine trial kicks off in Los Angeles

Merck HIV vaccine trial kicks off in Los Angeles

The first volunteer in a Phase II clinical trial of Merck's experimental HIV vaccine, called MRKAd5 HIV-1 gag/pol/nef, was inoculated on Friday in West Hollywood, Calif., reports the Los Angeles-based AIDS Research Alliance, which is coordinating the trial. North Hollywood resident Al Walz, who is openly gay and HIV-negative, will receive two additional shots over the next six months and will be followed for the next four years. A total of 60 adults at high risk for HIV infection will participate in the clinical trial, which aims to see whether the vaccine can prevent HIV infections. Merck also is studying the vaccine candidate to gauge whether it can help hold HIV viral loads low in people already infected with the virus. The vaccine uses a common cold virus to deliver three synthetic HIV genes--gag, pol, and nef--into the body to boost immune system defenses against the virus. "It is hoped that getting these HIV genes into the cells will stimulate the body to generate a strong cellular immune response to HIV, as opposed to a solely antibody response typical of most vaccines in use today, producing an army of T-cells that are programmed to recognize and destroy cells infected with HIV," said Stephen J. Brown, AIDS Research Alliance's medical director. In earlier human trials, the vaccine has been shown to generate strong and durable immune responses against HIV, researchers report.

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