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

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage