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

Photo: Getty
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Unite stewards urge members to back Owen Smith

In a letter to Unite members, the officials have called for a vote for the longshot candidate.

29 Unite officials have broken ranks and thrown their weight behind Owen Smith’s longshot bid for the Labour leadership in an open letter to their members.

The officials serve as stewards, conveners and negotiators in Britain’s aerospace and shipbuilding industries, and are believed in part to be driven by Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to the nuclear deterrent and defence spending more generally.

In the letter to Unite members, who are believed to have been signed up in large numbers to vote in the Labour leadership race, the stewards highlight Smith’s support for extra funding in the NHS and his vision for an industrial strategy.

Corbyn was endorsed by Unite, Labour's largest affliated union and the largest trades union in the country, following votes by Unite's ruling executive committee and policy conference. 

Although few expect the intervention to have a decisive role in the Labour leadership, regarded as a formality for Corbyn, the opposition of Unite workers in these industries may prove significant in Len McCluskey’s bid to be re-elected as general secretary of Unite.

 

The full letter is below:

Britain needs a Labour Government to defend jobs, industry and skills and to promote strong trade unions. As convenors and shop stewards in the manufacturing, defence, aerospace and energy sectors we believe that Owen Smith is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party in opposition and in government.

Owen has made clear his support for the industries we work in. He has spelt out his vision for an industrial strategy which supports great British businesses: investing in infrastructure, research and development, skills and training. He has set out ways to back British industry with new procurement rules to protect jobs and contracts from being outsourced to the lowest bidder. He has demanded a seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations to defend trade union and workers’ rights. Defending manufacturing jobs threatened by Brexit must be at the forefront of the negotiations. He has called for the final deal to be put to the British people via a second referendum or at a general election.

But Owen has also talked about the issues which affect our families and our communities. Investing £60 billion extra over 5 years in the NHS funded through new taxes on the wealthiest. Building 300,000 new homes a year over 5 years, half of which should be social housing. Investing in Sure Start schemes by scrapping the charitable status of private schools. That’s why we are backing Owen.

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. We cannot ignore reality – we need to be radical but we also need to be credible – capable of winning the support of the British people. We need an effective Opposition and we need a Labour Government to put policies into practice that will defend our members’ and their families’ interests. That’s why we are backing Owen.

Steve Hibbert, Convenor Rolls Royce, Derby
Howard Turner, Senior Steward, Walter Frank & Sons Limited
Danny Coleman, Branch Secretary, GE Aviation, Wales
Karl Daly, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Nigel Stott, Convenor, BASSA, British Airways
John Brough, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
John Bennett, Site Convenor, Babcock Marine, Devonport, Plymouth
Kevin Langford, Mechanical Convenor, Babcock, Devonport, Plymouth
John McAllister, Convenor, Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services
Garry Andrews, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Sunderland
Steve Froggatt, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Jim McGivern, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Alan Bird, Chairman & Senior Rep, Rolls Royce, Derby
Raymond Duguid, Convenor, Babcock, Rosyth
Steve Duke, Senior Staff Rep, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
Paul Welsh, Works Convenor, Brush Electrical Machines, Loughborough
Bob Holmes, Manual Convenor, BAE Systems, Warton, Lancs
Simon Hemmings, Staff Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Mick Forbes, Works Convenor, GKN, Birmingham
Ian Bestwick, Chief Negotiator, Rolls Royce Submarines, Derby
Mark Barron, Senior Staff Rep, Pallion, Sunderland
Ian Hodgkison, Chief Negotiator, PCO, Rolls Royce
Joe O’Gorman, Convenor, BAE Systems, Maritime Services, Portsmouth
Azza Samms, Manual Workers Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Dave Thompson, Staff Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Tim Griffiths, Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Paul Blake, Convenor, Princess Yachts, Plymouth
Steve Jones, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Bristol
Colin Gosling, Senior Rep, Siemens Traffic Solutions, Poole

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.