UCSC Lab HIV Vaccine to Start Clinical Trials

Breakthrough development could increase access to prevention

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The development of an affordable and efficient vaccine that could be the first of its kind in protecting against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV ) was announced by Dr. Phillip Berman and his team from the UC Santa Cruz Biomolecular Engineering Department announced on Feb. 5. The lab is ready to start a series of clinical trials for possible FDA approval.Ifapproved,itcouldtakeup to three years to become available for public use.

For three decades, Berman experimented trying to create a vaccine against HIV that could also lead to protecting people against acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), because AIDS can be developed by those who are HIV- positive.

“You can make the drug much cheaper [than other proposed alternatives], and much more affordable for the people that need it,” Berman said. “It’s a huge improvement.”

for affected individuals, but the lack of access to treatment and stigma of the disease persists. In 2000, fewer than one million affected people had access to treatment. Today, there are over 36 million people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide, and only 20.9 million of these people have access to treatment.

There is currently no preventative FDA-approved HIV vaccine. The vaccine developed by the UCSC bioengineering lab is an improved version of AIDSVAX, the only HIV vaccine to go through clinical trials and demonstrate preventative effects. A vaccine would need a 60 percent prevention rate; AIDSVAX only had a 30 percent prevention rate and the FDA did not approve it.

As of 2012, there were 382 reported cases of people with AIDS in Santa Cruz County. The Santa Cruz AIDS Project (SCAP) assists people living with HIV and AIDS with housing and food security, financial aid and access to health information and services.

Currently, the only primary preventative measure for HIV is pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which can be up to 99 percent effective depending on the dosage and frequency. Kalila Zunes- Wolfe, education and prevention coordinator for SCAP, said that PrEP is the closest thing to a vaccine available, but it must be taken daily to be effective. PrEP is used by people who are not HIV-positive but might be at risk of contracting.

“The biggest issue today is, and always has been, access,” said Zunes-Wolfe. “The science is there, just like with a lot health care stuff, but the issue has been getting people to be able to take their meds every day, be able to make medical appointments, be able to afford to take care of themselves and get housing and be stable.”

The next steps in vaccine creation for Dr. Berman’s lab is clinical trials. If these trials show positive responses, this treatment may become practice in a matter of months.

“Dozens of interesting vaccine candidates have been described, but most have not been tested in humans because it has not previously been possible to manufacture them affordably and in a timely fashion,” Dr. Phillip Berman said. “The technology we developed should break the logjam in HIV vaccine development, because it tremendously shortens the time, improves the yield and lowers the cost.”