GlaxoSmithKline will work to develop an experimental HIV vaccine in collaboration with a nonprofit group, in the first such public-private HIV vaccine partnership involving a major company. Jean Stephenne, head of GSK Biologicals, the vaccines arm of Europe's biggest drugmaker, said on Tuesday the deal with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative would speed research into a novel way of stopping the deadly virus.
IAVI will provide expertise and funding for the research, and the two organizations will form a joint research and development team, with GSK committed to making any successful vaccine available in developing countries at affordable prices. Such public-private partnerships are being used increasingly to tackle diseases, including malaria and tuberculosis, which occur primarily in poor countries in which Western pharmaceutical companies stand little chance of making money.
GSK's new vaccine approach uses a chimpanzee virus, known as an adenovirus, which has been engineered to be noninfectious, to carry HIV proteins into cells and trigger an immune response. The company believes this primate virus, using technology derived from the University of Pennsylvania, should be more effective than a human one, since people will not have preexisting resistance to it, which could stop human viruses from acting as transporters of the vaccine.
But it will be a long time before the fruits of the collaboration are seen, since the first clinical trials of the technology are a few years away. Industry analysts said this suggests that a commercially available vaccine is unlikely for at least a decade, even if everything goes according to plan.
Merck earlier this year started a Phase II trial on vaccine based on a weakened human adenovirus, similar to one that causes the common cold. Other companies developing HIV vaccines include Sanofi-Aventis and Chiron. All told, more than 30 vaccine candidates are now in clinical trials around the world, but scientists are not confident that any of them will be really effective at defeating HIV. The virus is a particularly difficult to tackle because it attacks the immune system and mutates so frequently. (Reuters)