by Eliza Beckett
The number of people living with HIV in Canada has been increasing and has grown to a staggering 67 000 in 2008 and 33.3 million worldwide.1,2 There has been a steady increase in the number of people living with HIV while a decline in the mortality rate of AIDS is becoming more evident.1 This With new technologies and breakthroughs in the medical feild to help combat this disease, people living with HIV are able to increase longevity with antiretroviral treatments such as reverse transcriptase inhibitors, protease inhibitors or highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).1 Unfortunately there is still a high level of HIV infection among the global population and an annual AIDS death toll of 468 people in Canada and 1.8 million people worldwide in 2009. These startling statistics are driving the medical research community to strive to find a cure.1
In 2006, Canada developed The Canadian HIV Vaccines Plan which outlines the plan for Canada to help produce safe and effective preventative and therapeutic vaccines that can be accessible worldwide.3 Prevention methods and antiretroviral medication treatments are effective but not nearly enough to help control the spread of HIV. In the past vaccine interventions for small pox, measles, diphtheria and polio all controlled or eradicated these diseases, making vaccines the most plausible solution to the AIDS epidemic. Approximately 2-3 million deaths are prevented annually by vaccination and with the addition of an HIV vaccine could further save millions of lives.2
Recently Dr. Chil-Yong Kang from the University of Western in Ontario, received clearance from the United States Food and Drug Administration to begin human clinical trials of the first ever preventative HIV vaccine based on a genetically modified killed whole virus called SAV001.4 This type of vaccination is unique by using a genetically modified virus in order to remain non-pathogenic as well as minimal adverse effects or safety risks.4
Approval for human clinical testing is a great breakthrough for the University of Western as well as the Canadian population. The vaccine will undergo three phases of clinical trials: 1 This January the safety of the vaccine in humans will be tested in 40 HIV positive volunteers before 2. Measurement of immune responses in 600 volunteers at high risk of HIV infection then 3. Measurement of the efficacy of the vaccine in 6000 volunteers at high risk of HIV infection. These phases will take another five years to complete before a decision about delivery to the public can be made.4
There has been many resources and great effort put into the development of an effective HIV vaccine worldwide. Past research has been done to investigate other alternatives of inactivated HIV vaccines such as antibody-mediated serums with recombinant HIV envelopes and cytotoxic T lymphocyte-mediated products.5 These methods were ineffective in the human clinical trials and are currently being re-examined.5 SAV001 holds great potential to become a worldwide vaccine, but we should remain cautious since it is still early in the testing stages. Research is conducted continuously around the world to find a vaccine to try to achieve the Millennium Development Goal 6, which is to reduce the incidence of HIV and AIDS and Canada’s breakthrough is moving us closer to that goal.
1.UNAIDS Canada Coutry Fact Sheet: http://www.unaids.org/en/dataanalysis/tools/aidsinfo/countryfactsheets/index.html?OAs=OA2,OA1&country_id=NAMCAN
2.World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/research/en/
3.Public Health Agency of Canada. (2006). Towards a world without AIDS: The Canadian HIV vaccine plan.
4.Duerr, A. Wasserheit, J. & Corey, L. (2006). HIV vaccines: New frontiers in vaccine development. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 43(4), 500-511.
5.Ha, T. Canadian-developed HIV vaccine approved for human testing. Globe and Mail Update. Dec. 21, 2011.