14 August 2001

South Africa: Human Aids Vaccine Trials Due in March 2002

Human trials on a new AIDS vaccine are to start in South Africa and the United States simultaneously in March 2002, Johannesburg's 'Sunday Independent' reported. Scientists are currently in the process of selecting 48 HIV-negative volunteers to participate in the phase one trials at the RK Kahn Hospital in Durban.

Mark Colvin from South Africa's Medical Research Council (MRC), told IRIN on Monday that there would be strict criteria for selecting the volunteers. He added that the study should be completed in early 2003, 11 months after the vaccine is first administered to the volunteers. Colvin said some of the participants would receive placebos, as this was the standard in clinical trials.

The vaccine, which is being developed by the MRC and the US company Alphavax, has been designed to target Type C HIV infection, the HIV strain that afflicts the majority of South Africans with HIV/AIDS and is also most prevalent in the rest of southern Africa. Researchers are hopeful that it will work against all strains of the virus. More than 30 vaccine candidates have been tested in phase one clinical trials since HIV was identified as the cause of AIDS nearly 20 years ago, but only one has so far progressed to phase three trials, the definitive test of a vaccine's efficacy, involving thousands of volunteers. Phase one trials are usually meant to determine whether the vaccine has major side effects, while phase two trials involve a larger pool of volunteers and test the vaccine to see whether it works.

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