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AIDS expert
reports HIV vaccine progress

AIDS expert
reports HIV vaccine progress

A scientist who helped to discover HIV said he has made progress toward producing an HIV vaccine and hopes to launch a clinical trial in about a year. Robert Gallo, the director of the University of Maryland's Institute for Human Virology, said results from animal studies are encouraging. "I think we've made some advances in making antibodies that will react with the variety of strains of HIV," he said.

Scientists believe a vaccine is the best hope for ending the global AIDS pandemic, which has killed about 3.1 million people this year. But defeating the virus has proved more difficult than researchers had expected.

Gallo, in Israel to accept an award from Bar-Ilan University in advance of World AIDS Day on Thursday, said it was still too early to say when a vaccine could be produced for humans. Researchers believe an effective HIV vaccine is still many years away.

"We have had some interesting results in the monkeys that show we can make an immune response," Gallo said, noting potential progress on overcoming the problem of mutation of the virus. But the antibodies produced in his experiments lasted only up to four months, which is far less than needed for an effective vaccine.

"We are making progress with a preventive vaccine, but we are not there yet," added Gallo, who discovered HIV with France's Luc Montagnier.

Earlier this week Europe's biggest drugmaker, GlaxoSmithKline, announced a plan to develop an experimental HIV vaccine along with France's Institut Pasteur. They intend to make the vaccine by fusing genes from HIV onto an existing vaccine for measles.

More than 30 HIV vaccine trials in humans are ongoing, but no one can predict if any will be effective against the virus that has infected nearly 5 million people in 2005.

Antiretroviral drugs have prolonged lives of HIV-positive people, but public-health experts say preventing the spread of virus, by using condoms, abstinence, and needle exchange programs, is also essential for halting the epidemic.

The number of people living with HIV hit a record high of 40.3 million this year, according to the latest figures from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization. (Reuters)

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