HIV vaccine gets a bit closer

No adverse side effects.

A vaccine against HIV – the deadly virus responsible for 35,000 deaths worldwide – looked a bit more viable this week as researchers from Canada hailed an early trial of a vaccine for the infection a major success. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario in a Phase I study of the HIV-1 vaccine (SAV001-H), the first stage of human testing of a drug, found the vaccine produced no adverse effects in all patients.

This particular vaccine, developed by Dr. Chil-Yong Kang and his team at the University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry with the support of Sumagen Canada, is especially unique because it is the first and only preventative HIV vaccine based on a genetically modified killed whole virus – a similar technique used for vaccines for polio, influenza and rabies, among others.

"We infect the cells with a genetically modified HIV-1", Kang said in an interview with Ontario Business Report.

 "The infected cells produce lots of virus, which we collect, purify and inactivate so that the vaccine won’t cause AIDS in recipients, but will trigger immune responses."

One of the key benefits of genetically engineering the vaccine is it is safer and can be produced in large quantities, which will be a vital component if the vaccine is to have future success. From March 2012 to August 2013 the vaccine was tested for safety in humans; a major hurdle the vaccine needed to overcome in order to move on to more advanced testing phases.

The vaccine and a placebo was given to HIV-infected, asymptomatic men and women and after monitoring the patients for 52 weeks no adverse side effects were reported. However, the vaccine is still in very early stages of development. It will now have to go on to Phase II testing, which will measure the actual effectiveness of the vaccine in prompting immune response, and then further Phase III testing, before it can ever become a viable treatment prospect.

Nevertheless, it is so far proving more successful than other vaccines. Since HIV was characterised in 1983 there have been numerous trials through pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions around the world to develop vaccines; but to date there is not a successful on produced. However, in the last decade scientists’ clinical work has resulted in some major breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV.

In March French researchers said that if caught early and treated aggressively, antiviral drugs could functionally cure about one in 10 infected. The claim was made after the researchers analysed 14 people who stopped therapy, but have since shown no signs of the virus resurging.

Later, in July, researchers announced at the International Aids Society Conference that two HIV-positive patients had been taken off their anti-retroviral drugs after bone marrow transplants seemed to clear the virus from their bodies, although they stressed it was too early to say if they were cured.

These are all early but hugely encouraging studies that show the fight against HIV is making progress. Could we see the spread of HIV be diminished by the next generation? It may be a possibility.

 In April the Department of Health launched a campaign along with the Terrence Higgins Trust called "It Starts With Me" to get people tested for HIV earlier. They said due to the effectives of modern drug treatment, which reduces the virus in the body to undetectable levels, it is much harder to pass it on. But testing in the first instance is the key to ending the spread of the virus.

At its launch Sir Nick Partridge, chief executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust, also involved in the campaign, told the BBC: "While a cure or vaccine for HIV remains stubbornly out of reach, what many people don't realise is that medical advances mean it is now within our grasp to stop the virus in its tracks."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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10 times Nicola Sturgeon nailed what it's like to be a Remain voter post-Brexit

Scotland's First Minister didn't mince her words.

While Westminster flounders, up in Holyrood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has busied herself trying to find a way for Scotland to stay in the European Union

And in a speech on Monday, she laid out the options.

The Scottish Nationalist acknowledged the option of independence would not be straightforward, but she added: “It may well be that the option that offers us the greatest certainty, stability and the maximum control over our own destiny, is that of independence.”

She also hinted at a more measured stance, where Scotland could “retain ties and keep open channels” with the EU while other countries within the UK “pursue different outcomes”. 

And she praised the new PM Theresa May’s commitment to wait for a UK-wide agreement before triggering Article 50.

But Sturgeon’s wide-ranging speech also revisited her memories of Brexit, and the days of chaos that followed. Here are some of the best bits.

1. On the referendum

I am the last person you will hear criticising the principle of referenda. But proposing a referendum when you believe in the constitutional change it offers is one thing. Proposing - as David Cameron did - a referendum even though he opposed the change on offer is quite another. 

2. On the result

I told the Scottish Parliament a few days later that I was “disappointed and concerned” by the result. I have to admit that was parliamentary language for a much stronger feeling.

3. On the Leave campaign

I felt, and still feel, contempt for a Leave campaign that had lied and given succour to the racism and intolerance of the far right.

4. On leadership

It seemed abundantly clear to me that people - even many of those who had voted to Leave - were going to wake up feeling very anxious and uncertain. It was therefore the job of politicians, not to pretend that we instantly had all the answers, but to give a sense of direction. To try to create some order out of the chaos. That’s what I was determined to try to do for Scotland. I assumed that UK politicians would do likewise. I was wrong. 

5. On EU nationals

I felt then – and still feel very strongly today - that we must give them as much reassurance as possible. It is wrong that the UK government has not yet given a guarantee of continued residence to those who have built lives, careers and families here in the UK.

6. On karma

You tend to reap what you have sown over many years. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to politicians who have spent years denigrating the EU and pandering to the myths about free movement, that some voters simply did not believe them when they suddenly started extolling the virtues of both.

7. On teenage voters

I think it was wrong in principle to deny EU nationals and 16 & 17 year olds the right to vote. But, as well as being wrong in principle, it was also tactically foolish. 

8. On slogans

While “Brexit means Brexit” is intended to sound like a strong statement of intent it is, in truth, just a soundbite that masks a lack of any clear sense of direction.

9. On Scotland

Some will say that we also voted to stay in the UK, so we must accept the UK wide verdict. But in 2014, we voted to stay part of a UK that was a member of the EU - indeed, we were told then that protecting our EU membership was one of the main reasons to vote against independence.

10. On taking back control

To end up in a position, which is highly possible, where we have to abide by all the rules of the single market and pay to be part of it, but have no say whatsoever in what the rules are, would not be taking back control, to coin a phrase we’ve heard more than once recently- it would be giving up control.