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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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.