Oral AIDS Vaccine to Be Tested in the Republic of Uganda

By Gottlieb, Scott | Bulletin of the World Health Organization, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Oral AIDS Vaccine to Be Tested in the Republic of Uganda


Gottlieb, Scott, Bulletin of the World Health Organization


Researchers at the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore have announced plans to begin human tests of an oral vaccine for acquired immanodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The vaccine is produced by an innovative approach that uses engineered salmonella bacteria to deliver genetic material encoding vaccine DNA to human cells.

The vaccine is being developed at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland headed by virologist Robert Gallo. Although Gallo himself cautioned that the vaccine is still untested in humans, Dr. Francis Omaswa, Uganda's Director of Health Services, said plans are already set for the first clinical trials. The trials, which will be conducted on volunteers, could begin within 18 months.

Uganda is the only African nation to implement aggressively a significant range of AIDS prevention services. 1.5 million people in Uganda are already infected with the AIDS virus, and more than a million children have already become orphans as a result of the epidemic. Recently, a new international forum to promote the development of an AIDS vaccine was announced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). In a statement issued in Geneva, the forum stated that the HIV Vaccine Initiative aims to increase international cooperation in the development of AIDS vaccines in the face of the epidemic's rapid spread in developing countries. The forum's coordinator, Jose Esparza, said the large number of HIV strains and the number of potential vaccines being tested made it imperative to coordinate research efforts.

The AIDS vaccine being developed by Gallo's team is the first designed to be taken orally as a pill. In contrast with vaccines that must be injected, the pills would be inexpensive to manufacture and easy to distribute widely. They would also be easily and safely administered by community health care workers, who would need little or no medical training.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the US government's leading AIDS researchers and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the vaccine developed by Gallo's team is "theoretically the right approach." But, like Gallo, he warned, "We've been fooled so many times about new vaccines that I've hesitated to talk about this one until now, but I really like it."

Development of the vaccine at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland is being supported by a 4-year-old not-for-profit organization called the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The initiative -- which is largely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the William H Gates Foundation and other UN agencies -- engages in what it calls "social venture capitalism." Money is funneled to researchers who guarantee that their vaccines, if successful, will be produced cheaply and be readily available to developing countries. …

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