SYDNEY - Virax Holdings Ltd. was awarded a A$700,000 Australian government grant to start a Phase I/IIa trial of a new HIV vaccine.

The technology, discovered in Australia in 1987, involves three genes, including two that code for proteins in a part of the virus's outer shell that does not vary.

Melbourne-based Virax first must make the drug required for the trial in accordance with the strict requirements of the Therapeutic Drugs Administration. It then must gain various approvals and conduct a small trial in animals, so the trial in humans will not take place until late this year.

News of the grant and the impending trial boosted Virax's share (ASX:VHL) price from around A$0.30 to A$0.44, before falling back to A$0.38. The Co-X-Gene (which stands for “gene co-expression“) technology was originally devised at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University, in Canberra, by a team headed by Ian Ramshaw.

Of the three genes involved, two code for highly conserved parts of the HIV virus, while the third codes for a cytokine, human interferon gamma, which boosts the T cells targeted by the treatment.

The genes are combined with a harmless, non-replicating recombinant viral vector and the whole assembly injected directly into the patient. The virus delivers the genes to a handy body cell, which it then uses to express proteins and thus stimulate the body's immune system.

Virax's managing director, David Beames, said the trial will involve 30 patients, including a control group of 10, a group to be given the full treatment and another group to be given the treatment without the cytokine gene.

Virax previously was known as Rancoo Ltd., but has been completely reformed. *