July 8, 2003

Vaccine trials open officially

The first trial of an experimental AIDS vaccine in Southern Africa began this week in Botswana with the enrollment and injection of the first two volunteers at the Princess Marina hospital in the capital, Gaborone.

"This study is a significant and hopeful step in Botswana's battle against the scourge of AIDS," said Joy Phumaphi, Botswana's Health Minister. "The volunteers of this trial exemplify the best of the traditional Botswana values of altruism and selflessness. They are true heroes in this fight for our country's future."

The research is a joint initiative by the Ministry of Health and the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP), established in 1996 by the Botswana Government and the Harvard AIDS Institute. Phase 1 of the trials, currently being conducted, is open to individuals between the ages of 21 and 40, who are in general good health, HIV negative, available for 18 months, not pregnant and intending to remain so during the course of testing.

BHP hope approximately 14 HIV-negative volunteers, from an initial group of 30 Batswana participating so far, will be enrolled. Potential volunteers continue to be screened.

The experimental vaccine is composed of a non-infectious component of HIV's genetic material. "These components do not cause infection, so there is no chance that trial volunteers could get HIV infection from receiving the experimental vaccine," said Joseph Makhema, BHP Co-Director and Senior Clinical Research Manager.

During the study, side effects will be examined to determine the vaccine's safety at three different dosages, and the body's immune response.

The vaccine was developed by Epimmune, a company based in San Diego, California. The BHP HIV Reference Laboratory is an ultramodern research facility that is also helping to build Botswana's professional capacity by training the nation's future researchers and technicians.

BHP is designed to identify opportunities for collaborative research, as well as pursue education activities in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"The government of Botswana deserves recognition for the creation of the BHP laboratory and the capacity it has built with trained staff, state-of-the-art equipment and Botswana-specific research," noted Dr Max Essex, BHP Chairman. "Botswana stands ready to conduct not only this study, but other important HIV research. It is important to stress that the road to a successful vaccine is long, and that this phase 1 trial is a first step for Botswana on that road." (IRIN)

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