AIDS vaccine expert encouraged by promising results

When promising results from a large clinical trial of an AIDS vaccine regimen were announced recently, it was good news to the inventor of one of the vaccines used in the trial.

"It's a surprising and important result, the first one to suggest that an AIDS vaccine really is possible; it's no longer just a theoretical idea," said Phillip Berman, chairman of biomolecular engineering at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Berman invented the AIDSVAX B/E component of the vaccine while at Genentech in the 1990s. It failed to show efficacy in the first two large-scale clinical trials.

In the new trial, involving 16,000 adult participants in Thailand, AIDSVAX was combined with another experimental vaccine, ALVAC, produced by Sanofi Pasteur, in a "prime-boost" regimen. In this trial, the vaccination strategy was found to be safe and 31 percent effective in preventing new HIV infections.

The U.S. Army, the National Institutes of Health, and the Thai Ministry of Public Health were among the partners that ran the trial.

Earlier this year, Berman received a $3.5 million grant from NIH to fund his ongoing AIDS vaccine research efforts.

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