Researchers are increasingly hoping that it may be possible to discover a a vaccine to treat, instead of prevent, HIV.
"It could have a big impact on the epidemic," said Rama Rao Amara, an Emory researcher working on a therapeutic vaccine. "It's possible you could take three shots and that would be it."
"Only a vaccine can end the epidemic," said Dr. Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative in New York City.
Most research has focused on a preventive vaccine. More than 30 such vaccine candidates are in clinical studies globally, roughly two dozen of them in the United States. One by Amara and his Emory colleague Harriet Robinson is scheduled to enter its second small study in people late this year.
The only preventive vaccine widely studied in people, made by VaxGen of California, failed in trials two years ago. That vaccine has been combined with another, by Sanofi Pasteur, for a major study in Thailand; results are expected in a few years.
Another pharmaceutical company, Merck, launched a large study of a new type of vaccine this year in several locations, including Emory's Hope Clinic in Decatur. Like other newer vaccines, it uses a virus to deliver scraps of HIV to the body's immune system so it will recognize and attack the full-scale virus. Merck uses an inactivated adenovirus, a cause of the common cold.
"That would be the lead candidate out there now," Berkley said.
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