Cameroon: Aids Vaccine: Doctor Cries Foul
Musa, Tansa, New African
When Professor Victor Anomah Ngu (above) announced in Yaounde in 2001 that he had developed an auto-vaccine therapy against HIV/Aids, his colleagues at home rubbished his claims. Now, he says an American company has taken his discovery. Tansa Musa reports.
Three years after he had been laughed at by his colleagues at home, Prof Victor Ngu was comforted when the Emory University School of Medicine in the USA, showed interest last year in his work. The two went on to sign a confidentiality and collaboration agreement to pursue the research.
But on 16 December 2003, Prof Ngu (a 1972 Albert Lasker Award winner in cancer research), alleged that the American company, Lipid Sciences Inc, borrowed his work and claimed it for itself. Ngu made the allegations in Yaounde 13 days after Lipid Sciences announced in Pleasanton, California, that it had completed successful studies in a mouse animal model.
The company described the studies as an important development milestone. It further said it was now initiating a series of non-human primate studies to further validate its "unique delipidation technology" with the ultimate goal of developing a therapeutic vaccine for use against HIV.
"Based on the excellent results we have seen in animal studies with mice, we have now moved our developmental programme forward to nonhuman primates. This step is consistent with our strategic plan and is the next step in the validation of our viral immunotherapy platform," noted Dr. S. Lewis Meyer, president and CEO of Lipid Sciences.
"The final results of these non-human primate studies will enable the company to present data to the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and discuss what additional pre-clinical testing, if any, might need to be completed before we move into a human clinical trial," Meyer added.
Lipid Sciences is a development-stage company engaged in the research and development of products and processes to treat major medical conditions. The company's viral immunotherapy platform is focused on the removal of lipid coatings from viruses and other infectious agents by applications of its delipidation technology.
According to the company, removing the protective lipid coating of viruses exposes otherwise hidden proteins to stimulate the body's immune system and elicit an enhanced therapeutic response.
But the process shows striking similarity to Prof Ngu's discovery, presented to the public in Yaounde (Cameroon's capital) in 2001. Ngu's "Vanhivax" is prepared from the HIV present in his patients and administered to them as a vaccine. From trials, it has shown to cause a drop in the viral loads of patients and an increase in body weight and CD4 count.
Incidentally, Lipid Sciences' mouse studies were conducted under the direction of Dr Aftab Ansari, professor at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Emory University's School of Medicine.
He is a member of the Lipid Sciences' viral advisory board. He was in Yaounde at the time Prof Ngu announced his ground-breaking discovery and negotiated the confidentiality and collaborative agreement between his institution and Ngu's team.
Speaking at the Pleasanton ceremony, Dr Ansari observed that Lipid Sciences had found "a unique, optimised treatment that is highly effective, not only in delipidation, but also in reducing viral infectivity while appearing to retain a very high percentage of significant viral proteins".
But according to Prof Ngu, the Lipid Sciences team, including Dr Ansari, invited itself to Cameroon after it had seen the preliminary results of his work presented at a Vaccines Conference in Keystones, Colorado, in January 2002, by Dr Boma, one of Ngu's assistants. It is this presentation that led the two teams to signing the confidentiality and collaborative agreement in April 2002.
In fact, while in Yaounde on 12 June 2002, Dr Ansari had hailed Prof Ngu's work. …