A VACCINATION against the AIDS virus could soon become a reality in Spain now researchers have secured funding for their work.
The Catalunya-based investigation centre, Hivacat, has amassed €11.5 million from an investment fund group made up of the capital risks management department of La Caixa bank, the toiletries giant Johnson & Johnson, and the biotechnology fund Ysios Capital.
Initial testing, followed by clinical trials, is likely to start within five years and, if the experiment is a success, the vaccine could be on the market between seven and 10 years from now.
These tests will be carried out by Aelix Therapeutics, a partly-public sector, partly-private sector spin-off of Hivacat, which will start with clinical studies on non-infected persons this autumn before commencing phase two at the end of 2019 – vaccinating HIV-positive patients who have not developed full-blown AIDS.
The inoculation does not prevent people from contracting HIV, but is expected to cure those who already have it, preventing their condition from turning into AIDS and meaning patients should no longer have to take anti-retroviral medication for the rest of their lives as they do at present.
Although anti-retroviral drugs have proven highly successful in keeping HIV under control and allowing the patient to live a normal life and life-expectancy, they can cause serious side-effects, especially in the early stages when attempting to find the right type of drug and dose to suit the individual.
This said, Hivacat's directors Bonaventura Clotet and Josep Maria Gatell hope the process of creating the AIDS vaccine will present information along the way that will enable them to create an immunisation jab to stop patients from contracting HIV altogether.
Hivacat's founders – Clotet, Gatell, Jordi Naval and Christian Brander – say their research so far has proven to be one of the most promising projects in the search for a quick and effective remedy for an illness which 150,000 people in Spain and 36.9 million worldwide suffer, according to the latest figures – from the year 2014 – released by the United Nations.
Unlike previous attempts at finding an AIDS vaccine, which focused on analysing protein sequencing and function, Aelix Therapeutics and Hivacat have centred on 'experimental data' from infected persons, Brander explains.
They studied several thousand HIV-positive patients, homing in on those who appeared to be able to control the virus without medication – around 1% of the total – to analyse their immune responses and figure out which parts of the virus these attacked.
These elements were then used as ingredients for the vaccine.
If it works, however much it costs in the beginning, the immunisation will drastically cut health service expenses in treating patients with AIDS – which is usually palliative – or with HIV itself.
“A preventive or therapeutic vaccine which works well, however expensive it may be, will always be cheaper than 60 years of anti-retroviral drugs,” Gatell stresses.
Naval adds that the company's aim is for the vaccination to be 'as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, and at a fair price'.
But they warn their ground-breaking research should not be considered as the end of the line for AIDS.
“We're not all the same when we become infected; some people will self-control their virus with the vaccination alone; others will be completely cured; some will need additional drugs to complement it; but this will have to be worked out through our ongoing research and the investments we have received [from La Caixa, Johnson & Johnson, and Ysios Capital] will be enough for us to develop two models of the vaccine,” Clotet explains.