PARIS - Merck & Co. has embarked on a Phase I clinical trial of an experimental HIV vaccine using a modified adenovirus vector grown on the PER.C6 cell line it licensed from the Dutch company Crucell NV.

Crucell, of Leiden, signed an agreement with Merck last October granting Merck an exclusive license for using the PER.C6 platform to develop vaccines for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Merck is hoping that trials of this technology will result in the development of a vaccine that can effectively prevent the development of AIDS from HIV infection, as well as treat HIV infection in patients undergoing anti-retroviral therapy.

In preclinical studies, Merck demonstrated that the adenovirus-based vaccine provoked a killer-cell response sufficiently strong in monkeys exposed to the virus that they remained healthy even though they harbored small amounts of the virus.

Merck made an undisclosed up-front payment to Crucell and will pay milestones, royalties and other fees. Crucell declined to say whether the start of this Phase I trial triggered an initial milestone payment. - James Etheridge

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