Univax Biologic Inc. said at last week's AIDS conference inAmsterdam that it has begun production of the HIV version ofits SIV/B-gal vaccine in preparation for human clinical trials in1993 following successful results studies in macaque monkeys.

The use of vaccines as a potential treatment for AIDS was aprimary focus at the Eighth International Conference on AIDS.Univax's vice president of research, Robert Naso, said vaccinesare the best way to treat a disease such as AIDS.

Also at the AIDS conference:

-- Two reports given at the conference concerning thediscovery of AIDS in HIV-negative patients aroused concern inthe scientific community and led to questions about whetherpatients can get an AIDS-like disease without the virus orwhether some other microbe caused their AIDS-like symptoms.Two AIDS physicians, Cornell University's Jeffrey Laurence andSudhir Gupta of the University of California, Irvine, havediscovered immunodeficiency in patients who show no sign ofHIV. The World Health Organization announced it will examinethe data in an urgent meeting.

-- At least five distinct genetic clusters of HIV have been foundin samples taken from major epidemic centers within whichare many subgroups of the virus according to Gerald Myers ofLos Alamos National Labs. This genetic variability is answeringsome questions about new virus that are springing up, butsimultaneously is opening eyes to the size of the epidemic. DNAin HIV's crucial genes undergo a 1 percent change every year,contributing to the onset of whole myriad of possible newstrains of the virus.

In its presentation, Univax said its SIV/B-gal vaccine protectedmonkeys from the disease and prevented transmission of thevirus to other monkeys.

"Traditionally, vaccines have been successful in preventingdisease," said Univax's Naso, "and we're hopeful that an HIVvaccine will also try to treat those currently infected."

Naso said he is encouraged about the potential use for HIV/B-gal as both a prophylactic and a therapeutic vaccine because itcan cater to a wide variety of HIV isolates. HIV/B-gal possesesHIV sequences that are highly conserved among the variousisolates of HIV, potentially giving the vaccine a broad reactivityacross different HIV isolates.

"The primary difference between our vaccine and others is thatthe HIV sequences that we're using are highly conserved," Nasosaid. "That is, they're present in most or all HIV isolates, soother vaccines dealing with more variable regions of HIV maynot provide broad protection across isolates."

In clinical trials, Univax plans to develop an immunoglobulin-based therapeutic using the vaccine to stimulate antibodies in aplasmid donor patient. The plasma will be used to purify theimmunoglobulin, which can be used as a therapeutic to preventprogression of the disease.

According to Naso, Univax's vaccine is a relatively uniqueapproach. "I don't believe other vaccines are using HIVsequences in this way," he told BioWorld.

The vaccine, discovered by Avigdor Shafferman at the WalterReed Army Institute, is composed of a mixture of four betagalactosidase fusion proteins containing SIV peptides fromconserved regions of the viral envelope proteins.

Univax shares (NASDAQ:UNVX) were up $1.25 on Friday to$8.75.

Simultaneous to AIDS research reported at the conference, Cel-Sci Corp. of Alexandria, Va., and Alpha 1 Biomedicals ofWashington, D.C., announced completion of Phase I trials of anAIDS vaccine, HGP-30. The vaccine prompted antibodies to thevaccine in 17 of 18 volunteers, and the vaccine stimulated theproduction of HGP-30 specific T cells in five of nine volunteers.

Cel-Sci claims that the trial is the first to use a syntheticpeptide subunit of HIV-1 as the active component. HGP-30 isrecognized by the immune system and can induce theformation of cytoxic T cells, which are essential for thedestruction of virally infected cells.

-- Michelle Slade Associate Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.

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