2005-09-22-Team pioneers new attack on HIV

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2005-09-22-Team pioneers new attack on HIV


Researchers from Northern Ireland are helping pioneer a new approach in the fight against HIV.

The team from Queen's University, Belfast, is helping to develop a vaginal vaccine in a bid to break the infection cycle in sub-Saharan Africa.

About three quarters of young people infected in the region are female.

Professor David Woolfson of the School of Pharmacy said they hoped a continuous vaginal delivery would lead to "whole body immunity".

Latest statistics show that every day more than 14,000 people become infected with HIV, the virus which causes Aids, with 95% of these coming from developing countries.

More than 40m people have already been infected world-wide.

The Queen's team, led by Professor Woolfson, together with Dr Karl Malcolm, Dr Gavin Andrews and Professor David Jones, has been awarded US $2.3m (£1.3m) to support their work on the project.

The money is part of a US $19.7m (£11m) grant to St George's Hospital Medical School in London from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, under the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative.

Dr Robin Shattock, from St George's, a leading authority on HIV transmission, is coordinating the international consortium working on the project, involving scientists from the UK, USA, Austria and South Africa.

Professor Woolfson and Dr Malcolm are acknowledged as world authorities on the design of controlled release drug delivery systems for vaginal application.

Professor Jones and Dr Andrews are experts on the formulation and physicochemical properties of pharmaceutical semi-solids.

"These technologically advanced systems enable a drug or other agent, such as a vaccine, to be continually delivered to vaginal tissue at a pre-determined rate over long periods of time, in some cases for up to a year," Mr Woolfson explained.

"Scientists in the international research consortium will design and engineer HIV-1 vaccines to specifically target and activate immune cells resident in the tissue lining the vagina, leading to a completely new concept where the vaccine is formulated as a needle-free topical or surface product rather than as an injection.

"It is hoped that continuous, controlled vaginal delivery of such a specially engineered vaccine, which has never been tried before, will provide immunity where it is most needed, at the site of viral entry, and in turn induce whole body immunity."

Professor Woolfson said the challenges facing the researchers were significant.

"Any pharmaceutical product designed for use in the developing world needs to be robust, safe, convenient to use and resistant to the extremes of climate likely to be encountered," he said.

"We need to design products capable of economic mass manufacture to international standards of pharmaceutical quality.

"In addition, we know that conventional immunisation by one or more injections of a vaccine has not so far been successful with HIV, due to the ability of the virus to mutate rapidly.

"Continuous vaccine delivery to induce immunity where the virus first enters the body is an exciting concept but it will take time, multi-disciplinary scientific skills and not a little good fortune to achieve."

The consortium will be working for the next five years on the project, which they hope will lead to successful initial clinical trials of candidate vaginal HIV vaccine formulations.

 


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